A few weeks ago, during one of my many Tweets about AskACurator one tweet led to another and I was soon making arrangements to go to Birmingham Art Gallery. After another few emails and tweets, it was narrowed down to me meeting the Fine Art’s Curator Victoria Osborne.
I was told that Victoria had a few questions ready for our meeting. Upon meeting Victoria, she also explained that she had read my blog on the French AskACurator (here, here and here). Victoria was clearly well prepared. But unfortunately for her, she soon found out I don’t really work that way.
We started with a few general questions which I was hoping led to the right Ask A Curator question – and I wasn’t disappointed. My journey with these interviews has been fascinating as each one is different so no template can be used.
Victoria has been at Birmingham Art Gallery for ten years. She is clearly very knowledgeable which was evident from our conversation. We agreed the best approach for this interview would be for Victoria to speak for herself as role of Fine Arts Curator, and not representing all of BMAG as their collections are numerous and diverse.
I always ask curators, is there a ‘Holy Grail’ object – something you’d love to add to the collection if you could choose anything at all – if the sky was the limit?
That’s a really hard question to answer off-the-cuff! It’s difficult to choose a single object but from a purely personal point of view I’d love us to have a Cézanne. We have a small group of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings at BM&AG and a Cézanne would be a really wonderful addition. Meanwhile we’re always acquiring new works to fill particular gaps in the collection or build on our strengths. For example we are looking to acquire more Pre-Raphaelite works by women artists such as Elizabeth Siddel who was a model but also a fascinating painter in her own right.
What project or item do you feel is your legacy here at BMAG?
The acquisition of Simeon Solomon’s ‘A Deacon’. This oil on canvas was something that Victoria first saw in the 2003 Forbes collection and personally followed the journey from catalog find to literally seeing it hung on the wall. In between there were a lot of fund-raising to ensure monies was secured prior to even getting to the auction house. Listening to Victoria’s description of the whole process, and certainly of the day of the auction, clearly showed how much this piece meant to her. This was one of two questions filmed for AskACurator.com
Have you worked on any collaboration(s)?
Yes, we often collaborate. Our most recent collaboration has been The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours exhibition which is currently touring the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney.
Victoria explained she was able to work with a guest curator on this exhibition. The Art Gallery of New South Wales also own several Pre-Raphaelite drawings so this exhibition was able to help highlight their pieces.
Which came first, the collaboration or the exhibition?
For The Poetry of Drawing: Pre-Raphaelite Designs, Studies and Watercolours the idea for the exhibition came first, back in 2006. We always hoped to tour the show, and began discussing it with the Art Gallery of New South Wales when their curator came over to BM&AG on a visit. He was excited by the links between our collections and from that, the collaboration was born. I was able to travel with exhibition as courier for its installation back in June.
Which piece do you feel represents BMAG?
Last of England is probably our most iconic piece in our collection. (Pre-Raphaelite). This was the second of two questions filmed for AskACurator.com
How many visitors do you have per year?
Over a million (was offered exact numbers but I felt that was suffice).
This led to a nice discussion on Art Fund and the fantastic work they do. Victoria had just been speaking to the Fund’s regional representative about an Art Fund event to accompany next year’s exhibition from the Royal Collection, Ten Drawings by Leonardo da Vinci: A Diamond Jubilee Celebration which will be shown 13 January – 25 March 2012. BM&AG is the first venue on the exhibition’s national tour
How do you balance working with the Educational Officer while ensuring the importance of Fine Art is delivered to Kids? [Kids in Museums]
Victoria explained that she works closely with the Educational staff in designing and ensuring the activities are appropriate. There are some exhibitions that are created just for adults while other exhibitions are geared towards kids and families. BMAG ensures there are always a range across the board to ensure inclusion.
BMAG also holds introductory days for teachers and educators so they can come in and learn what to teach when looking at exhibitions or paintings. I felt this was a very good idea as often the teachers themselves are stuck for the concept behind the pieces they are teaching.
Personally, my daughter and I love the ‘How Art is Made’ gallery where you can learn different techniques from woodcarving to drawing to the process of stained glass. It’s a very family friendly but non-condescending gallery for kids of all ages. Victoria and I walked through this gallery on our way to the filming and I just couldn’t help by have a go at the stained glass table.
BMAG have a very active Friends of BMAG which started in 1931. They do a lot of fund-raising for acquiring pieces and were a driving force behind the very successful Stafford Hoard collection (amongst other acquisitions).
Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery is to join with Thinktank in a new Trust from April 2012, so there are lots of changes in the works. Whatever the future – BMAG and it’s impressive collection will continue to live up to it’s motto ‘world class museums at the cultural heart of Birmingham.’