OCA North study visit | Vic Allen, Dean Clough Galleries.

Vic Allen is the Executive Director of ACDC, the charity that runs the art galleries at Dean Clough Mill, Halifax (http://acdc-arts-deanclough.org.uk). Vic kindly offered to speak to the OCA North group (8/3/20) about the process of putting on an exhibition and everything connected with it. Dean Clough hosts a large programme of around 30 exhibitions per a year in its galleries and operates on an open submission basis.

Vic discussing handling art work, with his original Bill Brandt ‘Snicket’ as a model. Photo by Andrew Fitzgibbon.

Vic spoke for several hours – a valuable opportunity to hear an open and honest account of the workings of galleries and the art world. I note here just a few points that seem important to me at this time.

  • On the art world – there are often very set ideas about what the ‘art world’ is. Vic’s advice was to make your own art world and quickly recognise that the idea that buyers of art are ready and waiting somewhere in the world is a myth. There is no system and sometimes the way people think things should operate holds them back from making progress.
  • If you are approached with opportunities, thinking carefully about which you accept and recognise the difference between success and fulfilment.
  • Collaborations with other artists tend to bring more people into an exhibition space – more connections.
  • On the importance of exhibiting – allows work to be seen in a different context, feedback (including curatorial) is mechanism to move practice forward and gives a sense of progress. Advice is to exhibit whenever possible to get work into the work. Be aware that show is not the destination – it is just part of the progression.
  • Philosophical diversion into the nature of art – Vic’s perspective is that art and culture are antithetical. Art should be about breaking a sense of habit and challenging norms, whereas culture (dominant culture) is about standards and fitting in. Vic used nice analogy about a matriarchal monkey and rice in the sand. Encourages artists to think about ‘artistic values’ – galleries are a bit like car show rooms and have little to do with the process of making art itself.
  • Practicalities of packing art work – a) grid of masking tape across glass (if glass breaks it holds it together and stops it damaging work) b) wrap in anti-scratch packaging material c) pack in bubble wrap (bubbles outward and secured with parcel tape d) use corner protectors (home made with cardboard or pipe insulation works. Generally – always buy bulk supply as far cheaper than from the high street.
  • On approaching galleries – know the gallery and what they put on (visit regularly to decide if it is a fit); target gallery thoughtfully; for leads, look at where like artists are exhibiting; go to openings regularly and network; support other artists.
  • On making submissions to galleries / for exhibitions – be prepared to show work during networking; have no expectations of acceptance; have solutions and go with specific work to make life of commissioners easier, remove barriers to ‘yes’. Take care of presentation – but do not go over the top, otherwise there is no space in which the curator can operate and there could be a perception that the work is already out there in other spaces if too polished. Ideal pack would be covering letter, artist statement, specific request about exhibition (including in which space). Avoid sending digital media if possible – never sure how it will be viewed (colours etc) and is not helpful in round-table group review situations.
  • On framing. Vic shows a lot of unframed work (feels it adds authenticity) – eg use bulldog clips, map pins (see through), bluetac (lots and avoid white as it melts), magnets (though attract to kids), polycarb sheet over art work direct on wall). If framed, use mirror plates (halfway up frames) – these are screwed into wall (therefore secure) and painted over so they blend in. Check any gallery specific requirements.
  • Other – having website (up to date) is recommended; can be browsed by curators looking for something specific (amongst others things). Important to develop own contacts database.

In conclusion, this was a Sunday afternoon well spent. The OCA North group also discussed making a proposal for a group exhibition to ACDC – if successful, this would most likely take place around September 2021.