In a meeting earlier in the week, a curator suggested setting up a reciprocal peer review system where curators from nearby galleries could visit each others spaces and offer suggestions for improvement. The example offered was new eyes would be able to spot interpretation labels that might not work very well. Though I didn’t say anything at the time, as you might guess, I thought to myself that I would hope that such a visitor wouldn’t fine a label to review.
Because I have been working on the international touring project for most of the year, I have not curated anything in Bury pretty much since the Text Festival; so imagine the near paternal pride I felt when I popped into the Gallery to see the latest show Beauty in Utility curated by our museum curator Susan Lord: not a single label in sight. In discussion with Susan, she used phrases like “what’s wrong with people experiencing the mystery of not-knowing?” I almost feel my mission is complete! The obsession with museums as education has made the visitor experience didactically one-dimensional and devoid of creative space or invitation for imagination.
As it is a Bury show that I have had nothing to do with, I can say with a certain impartiality and keenness that Susan has created an exhibition of tranquil beauty, demonstrating that curating is more than simply locating objects and images in a space. Informed by and offering up ideas of beauty in utility (the title tells says exactly what it contains in the tin), the exhibition displays tools from the museum social history collection in a central display + a corner of element, in dialogue with a handful of very cleverly curated wall based artworks by Liz Collini and Ian Hamilton Finlay plus a couple of Victorian industrial drawings. The show functions on so many levels and is all the more powerful for them being present unverbalised. At its simplest the show articulates the osmosis of function with formal beauty and the only issue I would take with it is that rather than the beauty residing in the objects or in the juxtaposition between them, it lays in Susan’s brilliant curation.