Interview with UCL Art Museum’s Nina Pearlman (Manager)

Published Oct, 2016

Nina Pearlman. Photo credit: Jenny Judova.

Tell me a bit about the UCL Art Museum, is it a collection, do you commission artists, what is the relationship with Slade?

UCL Art Museum holds over 10,000 works of art that date back to the 1500s to the present day. These were either explicitly collected for the purpose of instruction or were the product of a process of instruction or research by artists early on in their career.

The Collections were formed through major donations at the time that the Slade School of Art was founded in the late 19th century, with the acclaimed John Flaxman bequest mid-century pre-dating this moment. The Slade Student Prize Collection, enhanced by later gifts of student works by Slade professors and augmented by important works by past masters, has generated a unique record of the history of art education in Britain.

The paintings have often been the most visible in the Slade collection, but a three-year research project ‘Spotlight on the Slade’ funded by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, is enabling us to focus also on the Student Prize drawing collection. It is perhaps interesting to note here that works by female artists were awarded prizes and entered the Collections as early as the 1890s. In the past ten years, time-based media works have increasingly entered into the Collections through the prize system.

The Museum’s Collections are primarily stored. This challenge has meant that we have been trialling new initiatives for opening access to stored collections for quite some time, working with established scholars and early career researchers, drawing on the wealth of interdisciplinary knowledge and expertise within the university and sharing it with a diverse audience by working with a range of partners.

Our recent refurbishment, supported by a DCMS/Wolfson Fund award, has helped us significantly in this regard. We can now better support a wide range of artistic practice, audience led activities and a better student experience. This is particularly important for our annual Slade/UCL Art Museum Collaboration — a recurring project in our exhibition programme, but also for working on new commissions that include performance and media. The Museum continues to work with artists in different stages of their career on projects that relate to our collections, art education, and interdisciplinary research.

What is the UCL Art Museum current mission and mission?

At UCL Art Museum we aim to provide a collaborative environment that drives excellence in interdisciplinary research, teaching and public engagement in the visual arts. We are committed to the continued development of a world-class collection of art that champions the role of art in inspiring and steering innovation across disciplines. We interrogate the notion of the university art museum, hopefully, we are redefining it, through experimental and sustainable models of access and engagement for the benefit of UCL staff and students, wider academic communities, as well as our London and global audiences.

What is the process of acquiring new work for the collection?

Together with UCL Art Museum curator Dr. Andrea Fredericksen, I am responsible for the Museum’s Collections development policy. Part of our collections based research is identifying gaps in the collections and this research informs strategies we develop to bridge them. Some acquisitions come about in response to opportunity, including offers of gifts and bequests. It is our responsibility to ensure all works we propose enter the collections, including donations, meet the criteria laid out in the policy. Our focus includes gaps in the Slade Student Prize collection and the narrative of art education at the Slade, as well as works that relate to teaching and research across the disciplines at UCL. Based on the decisions we reach, I recommend acquisitions to a committee of museum professionals at UCL. Yet another departmental tier provides the final stamp of approval. In this chain, Andrea and I are the individuals with the art expertise. With the new focus on the public realm at UCL, I anticipate new processes for public art commissions.

Where do you find your artists?

Most of the artists we work with will have a history with the Slade or an interest in the Collections, their history or art education, some might be working or wish to work with researchers within UCL as part of a residency, research or public engagement project.

What in your opinion is the must read for every artist?

Critique of Aesthetic Judgment by Immanuel Kant — because broadly speaking all philosophical thought that has influenced cultural theory references Kant in some way or another, or even positions itself in opposition Kant’s theory of aesthetics.

What is the one thing without which you cannot do your job?

The UCL Art Museum team.

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