Sonja Kielty, our Curator of exhibitions agreed to write a blog post talking about her experiences curating the Bradford Open 2015 at Cartwright which has just finished.
I’ve worked at Bradford Museums and Galleries since 2004 as Curator of Exhibitions. Based at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, graduating in Art and Design and working with various artists from all over the world, emerging and established, I though I’d covered most kinds of shows. But nothing beats an Art Open exhibition, especially a gritty, northern city’s Open.
On hindsight it’s got to be one of the biggest administration tasks a curator can take on board. I learnt immediately that a loyal, committed team of dedicated art lovers, fine art students, Friends volunteers and quick thinking museums assistants are imperative. Administrators are the back bone. I am often invited to judge other Open exhibitions around the country – being a judge and not curator, gives a useful and broad perspective.
The Bradford Open takes place every two years and has done for over thirty years. It’s prestigious, sought after and very well respected. Enquiries come through all year round from artists wanting to submit.
From designing the entry form, to distributing and marketing in advance, to aligning alongside the Young Open (0 – 16 years), the entire project snow balls until a fever pitch of entries wheel, carry, push or drag through the door. These are the most anxious but exhilarating moments – will we get any thing? Will we get enough? What is there? Is there too much? (for some reason I always think nobody will turn up!)
Anyone working, studying, living in Bradford can enter. From Sunday painting to David Hockney – all can apply. Any medium can be included – 10 foot canvases, textiles, photography, film, fashion, ceramics – et al.
The most enjoyable day of all – judging day. Not for the artists, I’m sure, but for curators, academics, practising artists who form our panel each time – it is a day for visual gluttony, discussion, disagreement and sheer information overload on what artists/craftspersons are doing, currently, in the district. Anywhere from 500 to 1 000 pieces of artwork can be waiting to be judged.
Luckily we do have 2 large galleries for the exhibition. The main remit is to create a high quality exhibition for visitors but also to showcase the diverse media and subjects that the district is producing.
An intriguing result of the Open is to see how different they can be – more ceramics one year, another may show more textiles, another more painting. One may be majority landscapes, another more abstract. As fashions change and art schools shift in teaching, so does the Open, a mirror onto our pool of local innovation.
2015’s show was a highlight for me – our third prize winner, Chandni Soren, was only 17 years old. Zeus was one of her Art A Level pieces for Beckfoot School. A few months earlier Chandni would have been in the Young Open, the concurrent exhibition for children. Consequently she received an A in Art as well as her £100 cheque. Who says working in the arts doesn’t pay?
Feedback from this year’s judges included:
1st prize –
Professor Paul Coldwell, Professor of Fine Art, University of Art, London
It is often assumed that judges for open art exhibitions select work based on their own taste, their own preferences and are biased by their own reading of contemporary art. While there is no avoiding a degree of truth in these assertions, it is always surprising, when part of a jury, how much agreement and consensus there is between jurors… we came from very differing backgrounds, expertise and experience.
I was also surprised that I was often drawn to work that had little connection with my own practice and concerns, … As a golden rule, framing should be simple, professionally done and unobtrusive, allowing the work itself to speak clearly. The prizewinning works reflected a very broad range of styles and techniques.
Overall, as judges, we were seeking works, which provided a clear artistic intention with the technical ability to see the idea through to completion…
The first prize awarded to the edgy and provocative piece Eva Milevisnic’s painting International Grid, comprising of a map over laid with silhouettes which seemed to engage dynamically with Britain’s colonial past, the second prize, to Ken Wood for Between the Lines, who in stark contrast presented a set of three immaculate pochoir prints, …and the third prize by Chandni Soren, a robust pastel and gouache drawing Zeus of a head on corrugated card by a reminder that the most modest materials can be used to make an effective statement. Finally Ralph Linney’s Freda was commended for his closely observed photo realist pencil drawings.
David Sinclair, Exhibitions Curator, Barnsley Civic
Of course, selecting works for the Bradford Open 2015 I had a certain ‘tick’ criteria, like any judge would. But I made my judgment on merit based on form, medium, colour and innovation… Consequently, what is less understandable is what constitutes ‘that special something’ when all the obvious criteria have been met. For every one of the judges there was undoubtedly an extra something, a quirk, a mood trigger, a certain something which swung their vote in favour of a Yes or No. …
There are, however, a few definite ‘no no’s’ voiced by the panel regarding presentation. Although there are always the exceptions, it would be better for submitting artists to err on the side of caution regarding signatures, framing, titles and support methods. I’ve looked at so many artworks during the course of my career that I already know whether a piece a ‘good’ example of its kind.
Our winner Eva Milevisnic’s International Grid – the quality of the print and found object spoke to me, the imagery, historical and political hit the mark. …Ken Wood’s prints Between the Lines used the pochoir print technique as an innovative abstract medium and really spoke to me, the intense colour and geometric shapes made it one of my favorites. …
I like a naive style but also an accomplished one, I like it when an artist plays with distortion, I like order but I sometimes I like a chaotic image, Zeus does this for me. Chadni Soren hit this perfectly, the classical imagery executed beautifully on found objects, showed all the signs of a successful innovative piece of work. …
Rose Sharp Jones, Textile designer/maker, London
Although there wasn’t a huge amount of textile/craft pieces seen in the Bradford Open 2015 it was interesting to see pieces where textile elements had been incorporated into drawings and paintings… I found the mixed media pieces very interesting, particulaly 1st prize winner Eva Milevisnic’s International Grid. I really liked the aesthetics of this piece. I thought the piece combined two distinct visual styles very successfully. 2nd prize winner Ken Wood, I loved Between the Lines from a geometric/ pattern viewpoint. When seen up close the delicacy and detail in the prints was very impressive. 3rd prize winner Chandni Soren’s Zeus, I liked the free style of painting, which was also technically impressive. Also the use of the layered cardboard and the way the painting was worked across different surfaces/levels.
Ralph Linney’s Freda – Very impressed by this work technically, particularly the character shown in the subject.