The way art institutions work is really interesting, or at least that’s what I’ve always felt, organising exhibition to achieve galleries aims whether they are socio-economic (e.g. regeneration), political (e.g.5hrs of culture a week) or artist.
Now newcastleGRAFT are in the early stages of organising an exhibition (probably sometime in February) and there appears to be two main approaches to set a theme or not to set a theme. This will have to be decided by the curating team (they also have the tricky one of is this stuff any good). Rather than try and list the advantages and disadvantages of both I’m going to outline the two key reasons why I feel in this instance it is better not to set a theme…
Inclusivity: It is an overview of artistic activity within the group by setting a theme you may be excluding individuals who believe their practice doesn’t fit. Such practices of showcasing a groups work has a historical/artistic/curatorial precedent as in the case of ‘This Will Not Happen Without You’ at the Hatton of course maybe Locus+ had a more defined artistic position than newcastleGRAFT but isn’t that interesting, all that diversity? It was suggested that not having a theme somehow allows a particular piece of work to dominate over an exhibition this may be the case but careful hanging can help avoid or promote this depending on what you want (a quiet piece of work blending unseen in the corner might be what you want… on the opening night I will complete a performance shy artist drinks complimentary glass of wine then gets false sense of self-importance). If you want a snapshot don’t start playing with filters.
Shoehorning: I sometimes see exhibition listings and think my work doesn’t quite fit into that theme but if I tweak my personal statement and write a good application my work can be made to fit, the emphasis being on MADE to fit.
So promote inclusivity, avoid shoehorning!
Having briefly talked this over with Pete Hindle (guardian of newcastleGRAFT) it was also suggested that thematic shows might discourage people from exploring participating artists back catalogue because having checked out a couple of artists work and finding the do things outside the remit of the show they aren’t interested in it despite the fact the artists work may be tremendous. I’m not sure whether this is or isn’t the case but can see the logic