Coming Out- Exhibition Review

Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery (BMAG) are exhibiting a show entitled “Coming Out” that runs from December 2nd to April 15th in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

Though I was sceptic of the exhibitions self proclamation of being “ground breaking and vital”, I entered BMAG’s Gas Hall feeling rather optimistic and open minded… and left feeling a bit let down. It’s hard not to have mixed feelings about an exhibition that appears to convey mixed messages. I truly wished to believe the exhibitions soul purpose was to educate the public about and celebrate the LGBT+ community, however, I struggle to see this as much more than a publicity stunt. Upon adverts are lists of artist names who’s work are displayed within the exhibition, all of which are gigantic names within the art community; however I do understand that it is necessary to include big names in order to receive a larger audience to witness the show. My issue lies within these names being the primary subject within the exhibition despite their irrelevancy to the subject matter.

Take, for example, Sarah Lucas, Andy Warhol, and Tracey Emin. These are the first works you see as you enter the gallery space…
GGGreeting you at the entrance is Sarah Lucas’ sculpture ‘Willy’, a gnome sculpture that has been crafted of cigarettes. Beneath lies a description of the work, and yet it’s only relevancy to the LGBT+ community is that it is “camp”. Despite being an aesthetic attention grabber, using artworks because they are “camp” feels as though the curators are dampening the severity of the struggles many LGBT+ people have faced in the past 50 years and beyond and comes across as somewhat offensive. Lucas’ work is not the only piece guilty of this within the exhibition either.
One of Andy Warhol’s Monroe prints hangs further back, though in immediate eyesight of the entrance. It’s common knowledge that Warhol was a homosexual, however, his artistic interests showed nothing of the sort and, arguably, he made no impact upon the LGBT+ community other than being a famous figure head. When there are works within the same space as impactful as Derek Jarman’s ‘Morphine’ (a 251.7 x 179 cm multimedia painting of raw emotion so expressive that it forces empathy from any audience) it comes across as wrong to simultaneously use works such as Andy Warhol’s. Personally, I find it just comes across as if they are using the artist simply as an advert because of his homosexuality rather than his talent. Again, another theme that frequents this exhibition.
The only piece that directly links to the aesthetics of the title of the show is a neon piece by Tracey Emin entitled ‘When I think of sex I think about men-women, dogs, lions, and group sex (and I love you all)’, placed above Warhol’s ‘Monroe’. At first it appears all inclusive, but becomes problematic when the latter half either refers to those humans as animals or quite bluntly refers to sex with animals. Then again, two years ago, this woman did marry a rock. Is this really the artist curators want to use to represent LGBT+?

Not a good start.

Photo 06-02-2018, 13 36 57_previewI went to the exhibition with some fine art students and noticed that (after reading the wall and deciding to observe the room in a clockwise manner as there was no obvious direction of where to go) the whole group managed to completely ignore the first two artworks. Unintentionally, of course, but they were far to distracted by the bright array of colours before them that they didn’t even notice the first two artworks- one of which was hidden away in a very uninviting, dark corridor that- according to the gallery volunteers- people avoided walking towards.

Following from there, we entered a section with the afore mentioned Derek Jarman placed among a collection of feminist based artworks. Of course, through queer theory, feminism can go hand in hand with the LGBT+ movement, but when looking closer at the years each piece was created, they were not in the same era that they joined forces. Feminism was a social issue entirely separate to LGBT+.
What’s more, almost everything feminist has been ironically placed on a pink wall. It’s almost as if the curators were making a childish joke out of this entire project.

This links us nicely into referring back to the “mixed messages” I mentioned at the beginning of this review. Much of the exhibition is childish. The bright colours, the scripture on the wall TAKE AND ADD IMAGE OF “HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF?” , the entire simplicity of the concept “past is bad, present is good”, and yet the exhibition deals with so many adult concept and imagery unsuitable for children such as violence and a lot of sex. I cannot grasp an idea of who this exhibition is aimed towards, and I don’t believe the curators could either.

Much of the work appeared to be sex for the sake of sex. Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s large ‘Sexy Collages and Sexy Wallpaper”- like many others within this exhibition- is a great piece if placed anywhere but this exhibition. Each collage contains male and female sexual imagery and yet nothing to remotely suggest homosexuality. The vast majority of work that does refer to homosexual sex acts also refer to the HIV and aids epidemic, worded in their descriptions as if being gay were the cause of such an outbreak. In actual fact, it was largely a governmental issue, however this is a government funded exhibition, so it makes you wonder to what extent these are linked. Though I went in there with an eagerness to learn something new, I felt quite let down by the information I was given. Instead I was simply presented with some quotes on walls (that appeared more like statements due to their lack of quotation marks) such as “Heterosexuality is not normal, it’s just common”: truly enlightening.

Contradictory to what I have said, there are many artworks in this that are perfectly relevant and wonderful pieces, but you do have to filter these diamonds out of the rocks.


Curation creation

This time last year I’d never even heard the word “curation“, so I was far from imaging I’d be placed into a group and be given the opportunity to curate my own show; alas, here I am. Having first hand gone through the experience of preparing to curate an exhibition, this post will act as something of a guide for those who are either going through the same thing, or are quite simply just curious.

Find art: If you’re going to be curating an art exhibition, having some art to display is pretty vital. Keep an open mind about themes you may want to consider, it may be specific like “flowers” (in which case, obviously choose art with a floral theme), or it could be a vague theme, as my group chose. We decided upon the concept of “How long did that take?“. Though having a vague theme makes for a harder time finding agreeable artwork to put into the exhibition, ensuring everything aesthetically compliments each other whilst maintaining its vast differences to fit all areas of the theme, it allows us to broaden the range of our potential audience. Be sure not to only choose works specific to your personal taste, unless you’re looking for a niche market of people with the exact same preferences as you. It is wise to note that not everyone appreciates the same types of art. My group considered this fact and felt it would positively enhance controversy between pieces when asked “how long did that take?”

Puppeteer the audience: As a curator, you have a godly power. With your efforts alone, you have the ability to control minds; do you want your audience to feel sad? Empowered? Disgusted? The art you choose puts their entire mind in the palm of your hands! “How long did that take?” was decided to be an interactive exhibition (thus making it more memorable too) encouraging the audience to consider the efforts behind each artists concepts and processes behind making the work. Something that may be deceivingly simplistic might actually have years of preparation and research behind it as well as a multitude of layers, meanwhile a seemingly complex piece may take a talented artist no more than a mere few hours. It may also be beneficial to note that people always respond well to things that provide snacks.

Planning:   Now that you have your art and exhibition theme in mind, it’s time to begin preparation. Do you have a venue? Sketch it out with measurements to figure where the pieces should be. Do they look right? Is it possible for you to display the artwork in the way you intend it to be displayed there? Do you even have the artists permission to use their work? You must bare in mind that not everyone will allow you to use their work, some pieces may change, and others might drop out last minute. Expect the unexpected. Also, advertise! Posters, press release, pamphlets, do everything possible to stand out of the box; get creative, after all it is an art exhibition. Do you still have a spare bit of money left over to buy snacks? As magical as an art exhibition can be, they are not always perfect. In fact, with tripping hazards, things dangling from the ceiling, and potentially murderous artists (if their work dare be ruined by you or a member of the public), a health and safety precautions are a must. It’s wise to think of even the most ridiculous scenarios just to ensure every possibility is checked over and nobody gets hurt.

The big day:  The first challenge we had was finding the artwork all over again. People had been moving them around constantly, when it came for our turn to move them it was rather scary; walking down stairs backwards holding something so fragile yet so important. Some pieces were easy to display, they only required a bit of blue tac or a nail in order to hang them, however, we had two large circles hanging from the ceiling that felt impossible to display: they snapped string; rope looked ugly; in the end we were lucky to come across somebody with expensive wire for us to use. We also had a challenge figuring out how to put the video installation on a loop, however, after a good ten minutes we figured out how to make it automatically run for the rest of the night.
Overall the event ran smoothly and was a huge success, as was the deinstallation. Personally, I’m very proud of what I and the group have achieved.



Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.

You may recall that a short while ago I made a post called “Think Outside the Box”; a title in which I amused myself because it’s main focus was on curating art away from the cliché white cube. It included my personal view that, although artwork within galleries can be mesmerising, creating artwork outside of gallery spaces is an excellent opportunity to introduce art to those who wouldn’t normally even consider going into a gallery in the first place.

Pablo Picasso once said: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Personally, I agree. I believe that this is absolutely true. As a society it seems that we have the creativity and passion knocked out of us, after constantly being told that we aren’t good enough. Despite “good enough” being an entirely subjective term, many take this view to heart and eventually give up. In fact, I’m a prime example of this! I missed out on achieving an art GCSE because my mums boyfriend told me that all the good artists are dead and there’s no point. It was only thanks to a chat with my dad that I am now taking a degree level education in fine art, with a promised tattoo art apprenticeship with one of the best tattoo artists in britain! Many people aren’t as lucky as I have been, and don’t have such support. 

I recently learned that one of my favourite surrealist artists- Salvador Dalí- had illustrated one of my favourite childhood stories, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland back in 1969. Those who know Dalí should also know that he rose to fame with his early piece “The Persistence of Memory” back in 1931 after befriending artists of the likes of Miro, Picasso and Magritte. So after making such a living from sophisticated, adult works, why begin illustrating a children’s book?

To begin, no one piece of art is more professional or important than another. You could be a gallery artists, a tattoo artist, a children’s book illustrator, each different but each as creative and important as each other. Of course, everyone has personal preference, but on an overall scale, all arts validity is equal.

I believe that putting art into a children’s book, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, introduces children to art at an early age and raises them with the creative love that many children lose as they get older. And it is not only Dalí who has illustrated books, another artist with her own take on Carroll’s Wonderland is Yayoi Kusama. In fact, only last year did she partake in the wonderful illustrations of The Little Mermaid.

Below are a couple of links with a series of artists, followed by the children’s books that they have illustrated, including the likes of Warhol, Hockney, and Manet!

It just goes to show that a good artist is versatile, and will paint the whole world in colour no matter what the age of their audience.

Battle of the Sexes

For those who have been living under a rock for the past 30 years, the Guerrilla Girls are a feminist movement among the art society that combat discrimination through the means of art, humour, and activism. According to their research, 83% of the nudes in U.S. galleries are of women, however, only 3% of art is actually by women. This isn’t just a 60-40% difference that can be overlooked by nothing but mere coincidence, this is a 97-3% difference.

These findings made me curious as to whether or not statistics were similar among the curation aspect of art. Much to my surprise, it turned out that- within curatorial studies- there is a 5:1 ratio between genders… In favour of women! According to Johanna Burton (director, graduate program, center for curatorial studies, Bard College), gender ratios within curatorial studies are “famously imbalanced”. I went on to discover that this point has been validated by a number of other curation professionals. Personally, I am a feminist. This means that I believe in equality for both genders, so the 500% female to male domination also sparked a few alarm bells in my mind, and I continued in my research.

Plot twist!

Despite the mass proportion of curation students identifying as female, the statistics do their cliché again and flip themselves around so that- when studies are over and the time comes to finding a secure job- the number of males hired is “exceedingly high” in comparison to women, especially seeing as there were significantly more women partaking in the studies.

“…That said, and assuming—as I do—that men are not inherently better equipped than women, it is of note that female students outnumber male students by at least 500 percent in most instances, yet they often represent 50 percent or less of any given professional context.” Burton then goes on to explain that the cause of the difference between the number of male and female curators is as such: “The persistence of deeply held, if outmoded and even somewhat unconscious, beliefs that link the arts and extended discourses around the arts to those aspects of culture deemed nonessential. While curatorial practice has, in the last two decades, assumed a much more visible role, and with that a kind of tangible intellectual prowess, assumptions around the nature of certain modes of production still hold. The ratio under discussion is hardly unique to curatorial courses, as I begin to discuss above. The liberal arts, for all their visibility, are assumed to labor outside of immediate urgency (that ascribed to the sciences, for instance), and so are still coded as luxurious pursuits. Female students and practitioners (myself included) do not, for the most part, identify with such reductive bourgeois associations. Indeed, what I describe here does not explain the presence of so many female students—on the contrary, it explains the absence of more male students. That men often assume the most powerful institutional roles in cultural institutions simply affirms that within any eco-system (however it signifies more broadly) familiar gendered rules apply.”

So is the art world sexist? Or are the neurological differences between males and females what cause there to be a significantly inproportionate balance between genders in such professions?


Think Outside the Box

Despite the quotation in my last post “you can put anything in a white cube and it will be perceived as art”, curation can be so much more than that! The whole part of being a creator is to think outside of the box, sometimes literally, whether you are an artist, musician, or a curator., curation can be so much more than that! The whole part of being a creator is to think outside of the box, sometimes literally, whether you are an artist, musician, or a curator.

An example of an artist who turns a white cube into more than what its name withholds is Cornelia Parker, and one of her most famous installations “Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (1991)” (as shown below).

Hung as a centre piece in a room of the Tate Gallery, the shadows of the piece dancing around the walls of the room are as much a part of the artwork as the installation itself. Here is a wonderful example of how a white cube can be used as not only the frame of an artwork, but may also work as a canvas as well. Below are just a couple of thousands of light and shadow art installations that I personally adore.

Top: City View, 2003, Kumi Yamashita
Bottom: Dirty White Trash (with gulls), 1998, Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Of course, curation is not restricted to the white cube, being entrapped by four walls. Sometimes this surrounding may hinder the artwork being presented. An admirable example of this would be the work of Jeppe Hein’s sensational project “Please Touch The Art”. Part of the excitement of his work is the scavenger hunting around in the outdoors, discovering, playing, and interacting with his pieces that people wouldn’t necessarily go and see. Hein’s work makes art more accessible to the public, bringing it to the forefront of more peoples minds. Not only this, but certain pieces are simply aesthetically far more beautiful in the outdoors.

Could you imagine this, trapped in a blank room, reflecting nothing but the blank sheet surrounding it?


One of my personal favourite artists work is best curated in the outdoors too. Confining such works indoors would merely destroy the magic that it’s marriage with nature provides. His name is Andy Goldsworthy. To quote the man himself:

“My art is an attempt to reach beyond the surface appearance. I want to see growth in wood, time in stone, nature in a city, and I do not mean its parks but a deeper understanding that a city is nature too-the ground upon which it is built, the stone with which it is made.”

To conclude, though it is seemingly most common to display art in the ever famous “white cube”, that does not necessarily mean it is better. In fact, I personally may go to argue that it is far more creative to place artwork somewhere nobody has ever thought to display work. Stray from the norm, and don’t let regularities restrict you.

On a brighter finishing note, here is a selection of Goldsworthy’s artworks. (I couldn’t bring myself to choose only one favourite).

If you were interested in any of the artists mentioned in this page, please explore the following links:

Cornelia Parker

Kumi Yamashita

Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Jeppe Hein

Andy Goldsworthy

The White Cube

I was once told in a university lecture that you can put “anything in a white cube” and it will be perceived as art, which- to someone completely new to the entire concept of curation- makes it seem like a waste of a subject.

So, what makes good curation? If you can just position anything in a white cube, is there really a point?

Prior to the 1930’s, galleries would look rather like the images presented below, almost as if every space of the wall needed to be filled with a painting; the less wall present, the more fulfilled your gallery was, thus making it higher quality. Personally, part of me appreciates the mosaic-like structure- how everything fits together like a puzzle, and how some images lean over you in a 3-D manner- however I can also understand how this is entirely impractical.

Being in the presence of such galleries, the curation appears hustling, and overpowering. It is a tiresome challenge to provide each image its full deserved attention when it is surrounded by other beautiful yet interrupting images, and most of the time out of reach for me to properly see. Despite my efforts, it’s near impossible for me to notice each detail of every painting like I would if it was at eye level directly in front of me without distraction.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York holds the first known “white cube” gallery; it’s aim to provide a background with the highest possible contrast to it’s bold displaying piece. This appeared to eliminate the issue of cluttering the scene, and brought back focus to each individual piece of artwork. Though entirely contrasting, it was equally complimentary and seems to have remained that way ever since. Only postliminary to the second world war did the white cube come into the British and French gallery scene, though it was apparent within Germany during 1930, at the same time as the Nazi era. Subsequently, people may be inclined to argue a link between Nazism and the white cube, linking the common connotations the Nazis held between the colour white and purity; others may argue that it is completely coincidental.

To conclude, and to answer my afore mentioned question “what makes good curation?”, it seems galleries have evolved to discover that good curation means background and foreground must work together. Rather than removing all possible space from the background, include the space as part of the artwork to compliment and draw as much focus and attention to the piece as possible. Curators do not just “display” art, they include the wall to create their own art, whilst simultaneously boosting artworks to show off their full potential.