April 30, 2012  |  Intern Chronicles
England Explored: A Visit to London and Nottingham Contemporary

A View of St. Paul's Cathedral in London

A View of St. Paul's Cathedral in London

Outfitted with my heavily detailed itinerary, an exhaustive list of current exhibitions, and at least one pair of “sensible walking shoes,” I boarded my plane to London. As a 12-month intern at MoMA, I had received a travel grant to broaden my understanding of a specific area of the museum world. My interest in curating, which I had cultivated through my internship in the Department of Drawings, formed the leitmotif of my proposed trip: I would travel to London to meet with a variety of curators, educators, and museum professionals in order to gain a better sense of what the curator’s role is and can be within a museum. London seemed like the perfect choice, as the city plays host to some of the most internationally renowned museums and art-focused universities.

From left: Tower Bridge in London. A view toward the London Eye

My time is London was incredible. I met with a curator from Tate Modern and a professor from the Courtauld Institute and saw myriad exhibitions throughout the city. Each encounter and experience informed my ever-growing interest in curating.

Near the end of my trip, I had arranged to travel north from London to Nottingham to meet with Alex Farquharson, the Director of Nottingham Contemporary. Nottingham Contemporary, which opened in 2009 with simultaneous exhibitions of works by David Hockney and Frances Stark, is one of the largest contemporary art spaces in the United Kingdom. Funded by national and local art initiatives and by two local universities, the center generates several original exhibitions every year. They also produce exhibition catalogues, provide education programming, and focus strongly on community and access opportunities.

From left: Nottingham Contemporary, Lace Market, Nottingham, England. Image Courtesy of Nottingham Contemporary. David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture, The Royal Academy of Arts, 21 January–9 April 2012

I was particularly struck by Nottingham Contemporary for a number of reasons. The first was the building itself, which was designed by Caruso St. John, who paid homage to the historic district’s legacy of lace production by incorporating a lace design into the façade. Inside, the building has an industrial feel. The four galleries are large, open spaces that call to mind warehouses. Two have large panoramic windows, which look out onto the center of Nottingham.

Two exhibitions were on view during my visit. The first was an exhibition of large-scale photographs by Thomas Demand and the second was an installation by Decolonizing Architecture/Art Residency (DAAR), a Palestine-based art and architecture collective set up by Alessandro Petti, Sandi Hilal, and Eyal Weizman.

My meeting with Farquharson was outstanding. Upon meeting me, Farquharson brought me to his office, apologized for his jet lag (he had just returned from California) and launched into a passionate, hour-long explanation about why Nottingham Contemporary was a special institution that had survived against all odds in a terrible economic climate. He told me all about the unique set of challenges that comes with running a small nonprofit in the United Kingdom and spoke about his dedication to appealing to both a local and wider audience when planning exhibitions.

His dedication to providing access to contemporary art encouraged me to keep exploring the various mantles that curators and educators take on as part of an institution of this size. Farquharson’s disarming manner and refreshing honesty proved to be the perfect end to my trip. He offered warm words of encouragement for my future and various bits of professional advice for which I am quite grateful.