Kelly Large. Photo credit: Mary Ashton Ellis.
What is your background?
I trained as an artist and in my artist practice, I was very interested in collaboration, in working within the public sphere. I was interested in the relationship between the artist, the institution and the audience.
My practice always crossed over between something that might appear to be art, something that might appear to be curating, something that might appear to be writing and something that might appear to be event organisation. I did all those things simultaneously and didn’t really distinguish between them, and more and more often I got offered curatorial opportunities. Thus, for a long time I was working as a freelance curator for different institutions.
I wanted to have a more permanent relationship with an institution in order that I could really push my research and thinking about the relationship between artworks, institutions, and audiences in one particular place rather than moving around lots of places. I got offered a role here two and a half years ago that was a temporary role to beginning with and then it became a permanent role.
My role here is as a public program curator which essentially means that I organise the program around the exhibitions. That includes everything from workshops with families through to academic symposiums about ideas that might’ve come out of the collection or exhibitions, through to artist talks or specialists talks, through to a program of commissioned performances that happened with every show. We partner with other organisations and situate artist from the collection who have a relationship with the collections with other kind of organisations in the area.
Although my title has changed from artist to curator my activities are very similar because they are all about the interface between institution and the audience.
So why was it decided to make the collection public and in four locations?
The reason the collection was made public is because there were over 3,000 works in the collection which is small in comparison to something like Tate, but it’s still a huge amount of work and a lot of them go out to loans. We loan at least one work a week to different organisations all over the world.
The family and Elizabeth Nielsen, who is the director of the collection, realised that this [the collection] is an amazing resource and there was no place to see it. The way that people were seeing the collection was very fractured: individual works would go to other exhibitions and there was never a place to think about the collection as a whole entity. So in 2007 this space at 176 Prince of Wales Rd was inaugurated as the gallery to make the collection accessible to a wider audience and almost everything that happens here is free.
The second reason is that it gives us [the curatorial team] an opportunity to see what we’ve got in the collection. This is important as the majority of the collection is in storage or is in other institutions. So this was the kind of opportunity to really use the public spaces here to explore what work we had and how things go together and to keep that collection alive as when it goes into storage it becomes this kind of a stored artefact. Having the space allows the collection to be continually regenerated in lots of ways.
Since we’ve had this space the collection and the types of work that we collect has really changed we started to collect much bigger work we also commission artwork as well as acquire it.
Alongside 176 Prince of Wales Rd. in London we also have three other spaces. We have a location in Finland on Sarvisalo Island which is a small rural island. The program that we developed there consists of two things: exploring the Finnish landscape. And second, it’s a space where we offer artists from the collection residency. The reason why we chose Finland is because Poju Zabludowicz one of the founders of the collection is Finnish.
We also have another space in New York, which again is very different to the building here. The New York space is on Times Square it’s on a floor of a skyscraper, so it’s very modernistic all concrete and glass and steel and we tend to use it for projects.
We are also in the process of setting up another set of residencies in Las Vegas because recently we realised that a lot of artists that we work with have a real interest in the excess of Las Vegas. Thus we’re is the process of setting up another series of residencies there that will hopefully become bi-annual.
Does every venue have its own curatorial team or is there one team that looks after all venues?
The core team is based here at 176 and we program and curate everything from all locations.
What advice would you give to artists who are trying to make it?
I think my first advice would don’t think about making it in terms of your career, think about your practice the most important thing is making good art and making art that you’re interested in not thinking about what other people might think. You can only do that by making work all the time, whether that’s intense periods of project work or whether it’s daily practice every 3 hours every day. Have continuing engagement in your practice. The second thing is to use your peers and your resources. Otherwise, you might be making amazing art but if no one sees it nothing is going to happen.