Museum and Gallery Exhibitions 2010: The Directors' Cut

Interviews by Ben Miller | 22 December 2010
A photo of two people holding up a giant map
The British Library went large for Magnificent Maps, one of the best exhibitions of 2010© The British Library Board
They’re the ones who organize the shows, but which exhibitions did the directors and gallery planners think were the best in 2010? The results are in…

Matthew Flowers, Director, Flowers Gallery, London:

"I think this is my worst year ever for attending exhibitions even though the choice was incredible. I did, however, particularly enjoy Arshile Gorky at Tate Modern. It was great to learn more about a painter I’ve always admired. He was an important influence on many of my favourite artists of the 20th Century.”
Francis McKee, Director, Centre for Contemporary Art Glasgow:

"Marxism Today at the Cornerhouse in Manchester had two video pieces – in one a middle-aged woman talks of her experience of teaching Marxism in East Germany before the wall came down; in the other a teacher introduces Marxism to a contemporary class of bright-eyed students.

“The teacher explains the concept of surplus value to her students and they are excited at the potential of the Marxist analysis. Watching the video, I began to see how the same concept of surplus value underpins the labour of the artist and the vagaries of pricing in the art world.

“In Tatham & O’Sullivan’s Direct Serious Action Is Therefore Necessary, at the CCA, the artists worked with us for two years on the exhibitions, finally installing vast wooden sculptures that bisected the main public space of our building. The slow burn impact of the work is only now becoming apparent.

“They made us look at the space in a new way and as a result we’re beginning to renovate the ground level of a building. Not many exhibitions can change the long-term direction of an institution – direct serious action.”
A photo of a painting of a red book
Marxism Today, by Phil Collins, was at the Cornerhouse in Manchester until November© Phil Collins
Chloé Nelkin, Founder, Chloé Nelkin Arts Consulting:

“This year's exhibition programme, across London and the rest of the UK, has been so rich and diverse that it is difficult to select a favourite.

“James Turrell at the Gagosian was an exemplary example – his exploration of both colour and light was sublime, relaxing, bewildering and mesmerising at the same time.

"In Dhatu, the space appeared to change shape as Turrell forced viewers into a new atmosphere where we were lost except for the changing light patterns.

“A complete contrast, but equally excellent, was Paul Sandby at the Royal Academy of Arts earlier this year, which was a true delight. A wonderfully-curated selection of some Sandby gems.”
Angela Samata, Director, the John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool:

“This year’s Liverpool Biennial was as packed as ever with surprises, humour and inspiring artwork. One of the highlights for me had to be the opening of the exhibition I was responsible for, the John Moores Painting Prize, which is open until January 3 but has already achieved record-breaking figures.

“There was much to see around the rest of the city. The title and theme for this year’s Biennial was Touched and touched we were by some astonishingly beautiful works.
“Paper Mountain by Sachiko Abe, a performance piece at , stood out. Its tranquillity, simplicity and the sheer stamina and poise of Sachiko, made the work quite captivating.
“Temple of a Thousand Bells by Laura Belém was an installation piece within Oratory. A thousand glass bells were suspended from the ceiling of the Grade I-listed building, swaying gently to the poetry and music from loudspeakers, which unveiled an ancient legend about an island temple that sunk into the sea.
“Both pieces were great examples of the power of art to transform the familiar into something newly wonderful and inspiring."
A photo of a multicoloured canvas
The John Moores Painting Prize at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool
Rachel Mulhearn, Director, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool (currently hosting Endurance: Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure until February 27 2011):

“Reckless Times: Art in Britain 1914-1945 at Sheffield Millennium Gallery. A fabulous collection of works by Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and Vanessa Bell, to name a few. This looked at the artistic response to conflict in Europe and the uncertainty of the interwar years, but also the innovation and creativity that came with them.

“It was a mix of the brutality and destruction of conflict, both on the battlefield and at home, and more romantic views of a rural life ripped apart, resulting in a highly charged show which totally absorbed me – so much so that I had to be chucked out at closing time. Fantastic stuff.”

Sandy Nairne, Director, National Portrait Gallery, London:

“Peter Lanyon at Tate St Ives was tightly selected viewing, through the whole sequence of spaces in Tate St Ives offers new arguments for the importance of Lanyon's work.

“While appropriately stressing the importance of the Cornish elements in Lanyon's pictorial thinking, the exhibition also showed how the work could be seen alongside European and American painting of the 1950s and early 1960s.

“An exhilarating selection of works from private as well as public collections.”
An image of a painting of a man
Richard Hamilton started the year at the Serpentine© Richard Hamilton (2010)
Margaree Cotton, Gallery Manager, and Alana Pryce, Press Officer, October Gallery, London:

Margaree: “I found Bharti Kher at Hauser & Wirth quite thought-provoking and felt it really challenged the viewer’s perspective and their relationship with and to the objects.”

Alana: “Anne Windsor: House of Cards at Muse 269 Gallery. The paintings in acrylic peeled off the canvas and extended into sculpture. I enjoyed seeing the viewers’ reaction when they realized the works were created from paint.”

James Green, Director, Rebecca Hossack Art Gallery, London:

“In this age of paparazzi and rolling news, art by comparison can often struggle as a sufficient tool to keep the most dramatic episodes of modern history alive.

“Richard Hamilton, now in his 80s, has always been a master of this commemoration, and his solo exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery last spring showed his true staying power.

“His examination of how conflict is represented by the media could not be more apt: a powerful and thought-provoking exhibition.”
An image of a painting of a woman and two children lying on a bed
Alice Neel aimed to capture souls at the Whitechapel© Estate of Alice Neel
Hobby Limon, Director, TAG Fine Arts, London:

"I have to admit I missed the Van Gogh show, but I loved Alice Neel at the Whitechapel and equally the museum quality of Picasso at the Gagosian.”
Robert Bruce, Managing Director, Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, Portsmouth:

“As an ex- Royal Marine from before the days of GPS, I am a bit of a maps anorak, so my personal highlight has to be Magnificent Maps at the British Library MW107, with the accompanying BBC4 series, featuring maps in incredible detail which reveal stories as well as their wonderful artistry and one of the largest books you will ever see.

“I was particularly thrilled when the Mary Rose Trust, as a follow-up to the London show, staged a temporary exhibition here at the Historic Dockyard – Mapping Portsmouth's Tudor Past, which brought together, for the first time, several important maps from The British Library, UK Hydrographic Office and the Admiralty Library.

“All but one of these maps were hand-drawn and works of art in their own right. It was quite remarkable to be able to compare them to the Portsmouth of today.

"To be able to show our visitors artefacts of this quality and rarity is always a real boost for the Historic Dockyard and demonstrates how effective careful partnership working behind the scenes can be.”
A photo of people talking
No Soul for Sale at Tate Modern
Pippa Hale, Northern Art Prize Director and Co-director at Project Space Leeds:

“No Soul for Sale was a jamboree of artist-led organisations taking over the Turbine Hall as part of Tate Modern’s tenth birthday celebrations.”

Dominic Bubb, Exhibitions Officer, Robin Johnson, Senior Learning Officer, and Sally Johnson, Marketing and Communications Assistant, Herbert Museum and Art Gallery, Coventry:

Dominic: “Hell's Half Acre at The Old Vic Tunnels was one of the most atmospheric, claustrophobic and downright scary art installations I've ever experienced.

“Hell's Half Acre dares you as the viewer to journey through Dante's nine layers of hell; if you survive the horrors you're gifted a beautiful glimpse of heaven.”

Robin: “My favourite exhibition of 2010 was Grace Kelly – Style Icon at the V&A. This was a visually stunning exhibition of original costume and personal artefacts from Grace Kelly's life.

“It was absolutely amazing to stand so close to some of her outfits that were so evocative of this 20th century cultural icon.”

Sally: “Enjoyed seems to be the wrong word for this, but I really enjoyed the Exposed – Voyeurism, Surveillance and the Camera exhibition at Tate Modern.

“Some of the pictures and exhibits were really hard to look at and consider – for example, one of the pieces put the viewer in the crowd watching a hanging.  It was also really interesting to see what people did when they thought no-one was looking.”
Want more of the best from 2010? See the curators and artists pick their favourites
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