The Church of British Art

My bookshelf with a postcard of Studland Beach in amongst my art books

My bookshelf with a postcard of Studland Beach in amongst my art books

Its been a long time since I last set foot in Tate Britain. Every time I go they seem to have taken another step away from inclusiveness in how they present art. But I couldn’t stay away forever and after finally making it down there to check out the new rotunda (nice enough) I found myself headed through the ground floor towards a temporary exhibition. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted Vanessa Bell’s Studland Beach, elegantly lit – jewel like even – at the end of a long and sombre room. This is a painting with which I have long relationship – from student to professional to personal – and this was a little like visiting an old friend or unexpectedly coming across something from your childhood.

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Working to bring art to public spaces; Laura Harford posts from up projects

Fevered Sleep performing ‘the Bounce’ in raumlabor_belin’s bubble sculpture in Potters Fields Park, London, for Portavilion 2010: an up projects production.

Fevered Sleep performing ‘the Bounce’ in raumlabor_belin’s bubble sculpture in Potters Fields Park, London, for Portavilion 2010: an up projects production.

Widening participation and engagement in the arts is often perceived by the arts establishment to involve the ‘dumbing down’ of artistic content.

I work for an arts organisation that exists to offer the widest possible audience access to high quality contemporary visual art. By situating all of our work in the public realm, that is: in parks, green spaces, disused buildings, canals, streets, or online, we offer a chance for everyone, including those who don’t ordinarily engage with the arts, an opportunity to enjoy and learn outside of the usual gallery, ‘white cube’ galleries and museum spaces. Also, by offering many different ways to interact with the artist, commission or project, we offer new and deeper ways for people to learn through a programme of events and engagement activities. Additionally, we strive to interpret and document projects in unconventional ways – perhaps by posting a film on YouTube or creating a downloadable App game.

Arts organisations are obliged to do ‘outreach’ work and to look outside the confines of their four walls because of social agendas and funding requirements. This work must not be seen as an add-on to exhibition programmes and commissions, it must be at the very core of what we as professionals in the arts industry strive to achieve every day. If not, we run the risk of becoming outdated and failing to provide for the extended audiences we seek to reach. Widening engagement in the arts doesn’t have to, and indeed should not, involve any dumbing down in theme, content or interpretation of an artist’s work. Widening engagement for us simply involves creative collaboration on the part of artists and curators to discern how art is interpreted and understood and ultimately, how art is enjoyed as an experience for the many and not just the few.

Laura Harford

GABBLE UPDATE: The art popped and the digital fizzled

The first work goes up

The first work goes up

Our first exhibition opened in November 2012, and finished in January 2013. You’ll see from my last post that we were full of plans to do things differently – this was about bringing art to the people and starting conversations.

In some ways it was really successful, and in others less so – as a first go it’s been a great experience and we’ve learned a lot.

One of our key achievements was using the relatively new technology of ‘crowd funding’ to raise the initial investment that we needed to stage the exhibition. Supporters were mainly people we knew, but we harnessed their enthusiasm and generosity through social media.

The show itself got quite a lot of attention from the moment we brought the works on site. Those good folk at the metro (as far as we could hear) were surprised and quite exited that the work of such high profile artists were coming to their office. Anecdotally, and second hand, we heard that they loved the show, and that it caused a real buzz – especially in its first few days. Interestingly, it seemed to create a lot of good feeling towards the organisation amongst the staff.

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I promised news of a new project and here it is:

As you know, I’m very interested in how we communicate about art. I’m interested in trying new ways of doing this and how we can tell if we’re doing it well. So, it’s about time I did some real life experimenting of my own on my own terms.

This week we’re launching GABBLE. When I say we, I mean my lovely co-founder, Sarah Asher and me. We’re ‘popping up’ with a small exhibition of modern British art in an office building, the office building of a major London newspaper. As it’s a newspaper, we though ‘why not go pop all the way?’- so we are, with artists like Peter Blake, David Hockney and Richard Hamilton. Among other things, we’re looking at how these artists incorporated commercial art practices into their work and we’re showing a selection of their prints.

The good people of this newspaper will have the opportunity to get to know these works over a period of six weeks. We’ll have fairly traditional text panels up but we’ll also be experimenting with digital content; a website, QR codes and a good social networking presence. We’ll signpost people to pop related content all over the web. We’ll measure all of this traffic, run surveys and polls and when we’re done we’ll publish our findings. I’ll also be writing about what we’re learning here as the project goes along.

We want to start lots of conversations. Follow us on twitter @Gabble_UK if you want to listen in.

The exhibition website can be seen: here

If you think this sounds good and you want to help out, we’d be delighted if you wanted to throw a fiver our way: we’d be thrilled if you donate here.


I’ve had a long break from blogging, but with autumnal vigor and with news of an exciting project, I’m back in the game with an announcement on Tuesday. In the meantime, I’ve been looking through my archive and found that one of my favorite posts is languishing at the bottom of my table of ‘hits’. I thought I’d give it another shot!

Originally posted on Sophie L Shaw:

I read a lovely article in the New York Times this week; the journalist describes regular and frequent visits to one particular painting over the course of a decade. He describes how his relationship with the painting has developed, how his understanding of it has deepened and how he’s seen it in many different lights, so to speak, over this time. This puts me in mind of one of my favourite museum stories, which I’d like to share with you now.

For those interested in the history of the museum, the National Gallery is an interesting institution. One of the younger of the European national art museums, its story really comes into its own during the blitz. At the outbreak of war the national collection was evacuated, first to various locations in Wales but then, when bombing started to target rural locations as well, to bunkers deep within a disused…

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Presenting contemporary Japanese photobooks: its great when poeple do new things

The recently transformed Photographers’ Gallery in London would seem the perfect venue for some new approaches to presenting photographs and it’s taking up that challenge.

One of their gallery spaces has been taken over by Japanese photography – not all framed and on the walls and looking official – but in the format that photography is consumed (for want of a better word) in Japan – in books. Consumed seems right, because there’s something ravenous about this exhibition/reading room that is exciting, disconcerting and overwhelming all at the same time.

Picture a long thin room with long tables running down the centre; on these and all round the walls are hundreds of books. Maths has never been my strong suite – but I think I’m safe in saying that this equates to thousands and thousands of images.

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A difficult question: Part 2

In my last post I lied about a couple of things. Firstly, I said I’d follow up the next day – and that was two days ago. I also said I’d give three examples of digital resources providing access to art that I almost wholeheartedly love. In fact – for the sake of my word count – I’m going to give you two.

1: Tate recently brought out an app called ‘the Magic Tate Ball’. This is designed for use outside the gallery. You shake it and it pays attention to the time of day, your location, any ambient noise, and then selects a work of art especially for you.

There are two things I particularly like about this. a) you can be practically comatose to use it. The challenge of how to open up collections without putting the onus on users to know what it is that they’re looking for is a big one – admirably overcome in this case, and b) the art it presents you with is both a complete surprise and, at absolute worst, intriguing – in so far as you’d be interested to know why that particular piece popped up. You can tap ‘why’ and you’ll get an explanation (e.g. it is noisy, it is lunch time) and a related snippet about the work. Sometimes tenuous, this is usually interesting, but it’s here that the ingenuity peters out ….

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