I came into the gallery last Friday 18 September knowing I had to do a radio interview recording with Lucy from BBC Radio 4 about the works we are lending to the Royal Academy show, ‘Wild Things’ which is happening at the end of October. The exhibition features works by Jacob Epstein, Gaudier Brzeska and Eric Gill. As I discovered when Lucy arrived, the radio show will have Anthony Gormley talking about modernism and Epstein’s influences. One of the things Lucy asked me in the interview was where I thought British art would be today without Jacob Epstein? Hmmm interesting question! You will have to listen to the radio to find out what I said (I can’t actually remember!)
Enough rambling! Going back to last Friday morning 18 September. I went down to the archive to see how Bob and Neil were getting on. They had been to a seminar on archives together in London the day before and then travelled back on the train together to Walsall. More ideas had obviously surfaced because they told me that Bob was planning to dress up as a sort of pastiche of Lady Kathleen Epstein with Neil’s girlfriend’s fur coat, his trousers rolled up to his knees (his own shoes) a funny looking black velvet hat and a ball of wool unravelled to make a wig out of. OK, I said, wondering what else to say. Thankfully Bob elaborated and told me where he was getting the idea from. In one of the boxes in the Epstein Archive was a handbag full of Kathleen’s notebooks and diaries. She had written inside one of them: ‘Property of Lady Kathleen Epstein – if found please return to ……….’. So Bob’s plan was to go into Walsall wearing his outfit and a fake handbag full of objects which he planned to drop around the town. They would all have tags on them which asked people to return them to The New Art Gallery Walsall. (I’m sure you will see more about this in Neil and Bob’s blogs.) All well and good and I left them to it.
I met Lucy from BBC Radio 4 later that day; we were trying to find somewhere quiet to hold the interview. All our rooms were full so I suggested we go into the archive room which I thought Bob and Neil would have left. Down we went into the basement of the gallery and I entered the archive room followed by Lucy, only to be confronted by Bob in a fur coat and velvet hat and woolly wig. I found it hilarious, I think Lucy did too and we were able to throw a few comments about the project into the interview along with quotes from Epstein’s love letters to Kathleen. Bob seemed quite happy and he and Neil went off to film the project around Walsall. Hopefully, the film they made will be here on this blog for you to see soon.
Hi, i’m Cheryl, Library and Collections Supervisor at the Gallery.
Just thought i’d let you know about a conference I attended in Cardiff last week all about Artists as ‘Go Between’, in other words artists acting as a mediator between collections and audiences. This is obviously particularly relevant to us with the Epstein Archive project Neil and Bob collaborating on.
Many presentations were given about projects where artists had worked with museum collections to create new artworks, exhibitions and events. There were many different types of project, for example artists placing their own work alongside objects from museum collections, inviting the public to partcipate in making direct responses and new archives, or completly changing the methods of display within the museum.
Highlights included Manchester museum’s Alchemy project, in particular the Manchester Hermit Ansuman Biswas; and The Uncanny Room at Pitzhanger Manor-House.
There were also papers given which brought up potential issues with this type of project, and several question raised, such as:
why has it become the burden of artists to enliven collections?
Is the artist really better at communicating to the public than existing museum staff?
Is the artist’s work comprimised or hindered by the limitations inevitable in working with an institution?
Are our collections in danger of being mistreated by untrained handlers?
Is this all just about the number of people coming through the door of the museum?
These questions are all food for thought, but each person who presented a working example, whether they were artists or institution professionals, reported a positive experience for all parties concerned. However, the conference could have done with some representation of the audiences and public participants to ensure a balanced view.
I still came away from the conference believing that these projects are a fantastic way of introducing people to collections that they may not otherwise ever come across. Artists can bring a fresh set of eyes to the often overlooked parts of a collection, and through a good dialogue with the collection experts within the museum, they can bring their own practice to the table to create innovative methods of interpretation.
I have a copy of The Go Between (Vol 1) available the library which contains some of the papers presented at the conference.
It would be interesting to know what your thoughts are…
I’m Jo Digger. I’m the Collections Curator for The New Art Gallery Walsall. I thought I should fill you in on some of the background to the Epstein Archive and the project.
To try and sum it up (not an easy task):-
Back in 1972 Lady Kathleen Epstein gave the fantastic Garman Ryan Collection to Walsall. She was the wife of the sculptor Jacob Epstein and there are a lot of works by him in the collection plus more art works of and by their family, many of whom were artists in their own right, including their son in law, the painter Lucian Freud.
During the course of research into the collection in 1998, I was in contact with Jackie Epstein (Jacob Epstein’s youngest child) and his wife Isobel Epstein who had moved into the last house that Kathleen lived in Putney, London to look after family friend Beth Lipkin who had inherited the house and contents from Kathleen. In the process of sorting the house they came across many letters and documents relating to Epstein and The Garman Ryan Collection. Coincidently, we were developing The New Art Gallery Walsall at that time, with the Garman Ryan Collection at the heart of it, and Jackie and Isobel felt that Walsall would be the best place for the documents to go.
Walsall finally took ownership of the documents in 2006 and we then started to search for funding to appoint an archivist to catalogue, sort and organise the archives. However we wanted the process to be creative and so decided to bring in an artist to work with the archivist on the whole project.
To cut a long story as short as possible – we then appointed the artist Bob and Roberta Smith to work on the 18 month project with funding through a joint Museums Libraries and Archives and Arts Council project called ‘New Ways of Curating’ and then were able to secure Heritage Lottery funding to appoint the archivist, Neil Lebeter through a project grant entitled ‘New Ways of Collaborating’.
They both started last week, on 9 September 2009, and within a day had started to bring the archive to the surface of The New Art Gallery Walsall with a display of artwork and archive material related to Theodore Garman, Epstein and Kathleen’s son and a painter in his own right.
We don’t know what the future will hold for the Epstein Archive but if last week is anything to go by the journey will be a fascinating one. We do know that it will result in a catalogued archive on line, public displays of the archives with artwork by Bob and Roberta Smith in some shape or form and educational tools for future use of the archives by formal and informal education and community groups.
Watch this space!
As this is my first post I thought it best to introduce myself a bit. My name is Neil Lebeter and I am the new archivist at The New Art Gallery Walsall. I’ve been given the rather exciting task of sorting out the Epstein Archive and working with the fantastic Bob and Roberta Smith to show this largely untapped resource to you all in a number of wonderful ways. This blog is for everything really; debate, comment and correspondence. Please feel free to get in touch and, as this is to be the record of the project and its evolution, you can have a nosy at the messages Bob and I send to each other – no matter how trivial!
The Epstein Archive burst into activity this week in what has been a rather interesting/exciting/disturbing/amusing first 3 days. Bob and I rifled through the archive with a view of putting on a small display in the foyer and the library of the gallery, which is now set up (see pictures below). This was a fantastic way for us to scratch the surface of the Epstein Archive and get to know one Garman family member in particular; Theodore. I think Bob and I both had an interest in Theo before arriving here as he is such an interesting and, ultimately, tragic character. The letters of his that his mother Kathleen kept only support our theory that he was a thoroughly decent bloke as, even from a young age, his personality really comes through in his writing.
In the display, we concentrated on the humorous aspects of his letters to Kathleen, in which he requests some frankly bizarre items to be sent to him, and also on the annotated books of Theo’s that the archive also holds. These were particularly poignant given his short and troubled life as the notes and scribbles in these volumes, in a way, chart his declining mental health, which ultimately lead to his death.
For both these displays, Bob painted up some fantastic signs that highlight the amusing, farcical and tragic elements of these objects and, in my humble opinion, make the archival material all the more engaging. We do hope that you agree!