Art in its Place

In 2007 the National Gallery, along with Hewlett Packard, put reproductions of its paintings out onto the streets in London

Exhibition: Art in its Place
Venue: Norman Rea Gallery, Langwith
Curator: Josefine Baark
Rating: ***

In 2007 the National Gallery, along with Hewlett Packard, put reproductions of its paintings out onto the streets of London. It transferred masterpieces from the conventional silent showground to the raucous social space. Was it democratising artistic masterpieces through its wider dissemination, or degrading the ‘aura’ of the art form through mass production?

Art in its Place, presented by Langwith Arts returned to this fundamental debate between curatorship, museology and art. It showcased prints of eight major works from the National Gallery and exhibited neo-classical art with a modernist impression. The question of the curator acting as ‘artist’ was once more brought to the fore. Josefine Baark, one of four York students who organised the exhibition, said she wanted to “question the information given in a museum space,” and to explore “what happens when you are given no information and have to bring your own information to the image.”

One of the exhibits, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers was shown with personal trinkets and a framed image of the artist surrounding the painting that was originally intended to hang in Paul Gauguin’s room. The fact that the creation of this painting was an act of devotion is lost in the clinical arena of the gallery; the way in which a curator can manipulate the meaning of an art piece was therefore a central theme throughout the exhibits.

MIMA curator, Gavin Delahunty in the panel debate on curatorship and Museology emphasised how the reproduction of art, whilst elevating its economic value degrades the value of art as a redundant commodity: “we have to question how value is created, generated, sustained, when the surplus value of a work of art is its economic value.” He continued, “I had a conversation with a contemporary art curator, who bought this amazing painting, but he was quick to make a reproduction of it, it’s that reproduction that hangs on his wall, the actual painting is locked away in a safe. When it gets to this stage I think we’ve collectively lost our way.”

The prominent 1970’s Swiss curator Harald Szeemann, described his role as at once “archivist, conservator, art handler, press officer, accountant and above all, accomplice of the artist.” He made the concept of art exhibition the art form in itself, and constantly grappled with how the museum space could serve the art piece and engage the spectator.

Here, the economic and cultural impact of an artwork collapse into one another to produce what the panel described as “cultural capital” in an age of consumption. By unveiling the philosophical and economic debate that lies behind each exhibited painting, ‘Art in its Place’ intelligently confronted whether we have really lost our way in modern curatorship.

Art In Its Place will be exhibited at the Norman Rea Gallery, Langwith College until July 1st.

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