Curating Young and Old Masters. Interview with Daisy McMullan – Curator, Young Masters Art Prize 2012

Daisy McMullan, curator of the Young Masters Art Prize 2012 tells Kate Eleanor Ross about curating  Young and Old Masters at Sphinx Fine Art gallery in London. We discussed the role of the curator, the challenges involved with this exhibition and found out more about Daisy’s curatorial practice and interests.  Daisy is my colleague at CHELSEA space where we both work. I am the Chelsea Arts Club Trust Research Fellow (which I write about in this post here ) and Daisy is the Ashley Family Foundation Research Fellow.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: Please introduce the Young Masters Art Prize for those of us who haven’t heard about it yet.

DM: The Young Masters Art Prize is for emerging and established artists who are inspired by the Old Masters and art history. It encourages artists to look back to the past for inspiration, whether that takes the form of a theme, such as mythology, a genre such as portraiture, a technique such as chiaroscuro, or a more literal sort of appropriation.

The Prize started in 2009, and this time around we had over 400 applications, from all over the world. Gallerist Cynthia Corbett, the founder of the Young Masters Art Prize, saw a real need for a prize such as this that recognises contemporary art’s debt to the past.

The winner of the Prize will win £5,000 and two runners up will receive £500 each. The winner will be decided by a panel of judges, which is chaired by Godfrey Barker, a journalist and critic. The other judges include artist Adam Dant, Colin Wiggins who is Curator of Special Projects at the National Gallery, Anke Adler-Slottke who is a director at Christie’s, and Roy Bolton who is director of Sphinx Fine Art, who are also hosting the first of our two exhibitions. All of the shortlisted artists are featured in two London exhibitions; the first part is at Sphinx until October 27th where the contemporary works are hung alongside the gallery’s Old Master Collection and the second will be at Gallery 27 Cork Street, from the 19th – 24th November, when our winner will be announced.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: Name a favourite museum/gallery.

DM: My favourite historical gallery is the Courtauld, it’s full of incredible works, and the collection is really well curated, with an excellent balance between the scholarly and a more general approach.  It also has that wonderful Manet painting of the A Bar at the Folies-Bergère which I find completely absorbing.

I would choose the Camden Arts Centre as my favourite contemporary gallery, I think the range of artists, projects and exhibitions they have is great, and I always enjoy the exhibitions they have there.  I particularly liked Simon Starling’s exhibition Never the Same River, I thought it was a clever play with past, present and future.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: Tell me about your role with the Young Masters Art Prize?

DM: My role has been primarily curatorial, so thinking about how to present the artists in the best way for each of their practices, liaising with the artists to research their work and how it can engage with two quite different exhibition spaces.  I also edited the catalogue and wrote a Curatorial Statement about the Prize and the artists.  For this show at Sphinx I also did a lot of work looking through their collection (which contains over 800 works) to find paintings and drawings that could be juxtaposed with the contemporary pieces.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: What were the most significant challenges of curating the exhibition whether that is in terms of the show hang or organising the exhibition logistically?

DM: Aside from cutting the hundreds of applications down to a shortlist of 26, the most significant curatorial challenge has been working out these juxtapositions, not only between the Old Masters and the shortlisted works, but creating a scheme for the whole exhibition around art historical genre, so that each floor has its own feel and atmosphere.  In the basement there is a busy, salon-type display around still life, nature and animals, which works really well.  The first floor is a quieter room with red walls, that is dedicated to interiors, portraits and feels a lot more domestic.

 

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: What is your favourite piece of work in the exhibition and why?

DM: I think I should tell you my favourite shortlisted artists after the judges have decided on a winner?  There is a really great Franz Hals portrait of a young man which I really love, and it works so perfectly next to Charles Moxon’s portrait Contemporary Reminiscence.  We also have a guest artist Ali Assaf, who has been invited to show alongside the shortlisted artists.  He is showing stills from his video work Narciso which was originally shown in the Iraq Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.   The work is really powerful, based on a Caravaggio painting of the same name and Assaf appropriates the composition to ask questions about personal memory and identity.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: Describe a best and toughest moment of working on the Young Masters Art Prize.

DM: The best moment so far has been seeing this show finished and seeing all the work in the flesh for the first time, although I’m excited to find out who the winner will be. There are several very strong contenders.  The toughest thing has been coordinating so many international artists, the logistical side has been harder than I imagined. But, seeing the finished exhibition here at Sphinx has made it feel worthwhile.

 

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: How do your research interests or curatorial practice connect with what you’ve been working on for the Young Masters Art Prize?

DM: My research interests are around contemporary artist’s interventions in the museum and the museum as a site of modernity. I am also interested in documentation, archives, and the relationship between the past and the present, so the Prize fits very well with my own research. I have recently written for engage journal about contemporary artists who appropriate museological forms of display.  I am also working on several new projects next year including two exhibitions with a group of textile artists.

Installation view of Young Masters Art Prize exhibition 2012 at Sphinx Fine Art gallery. Photograph by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize.

KR: What is next for Daisy McMullan, curator and where can we go to find out more about you also to keep up to date?

DM: Right now I am planning the second Young Masters exhibition at Gallery 27 in Cork Street which will be really exciting, and look very contemporary, completely different to the show at Sphinx. We will also have a work byYinka Shonibare who has kindly agreed to be a guest artist for that show, which is very exciting as a young curator.

Website for YM:  www.young-masters.co.uk

Twitter @corbettprojects

DM twitter: @daisy_mcmullan

All photographs are by Daisy McMullan and Young Masters Art Prize

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Kate Eleanor Ross, author of the blog Curatorial Curiosities would like to thank Daisy McMullan for being the first to be interviewed for this blog. Here’s to many more! If you’re interested in being interviewed by me, please read details for how to get in touch by clicking here or go to the contact me page.


2 Comments on “Curating Young and Old Masters. Interview with Daisy McMullan – Curator, Young Masters Art Prize 2012”

  1. […] Curating Young and Old Masters. Interview with Daisy McMullan – Curator, Young Masters Art Pri… → […]

  2. […] You can read an interview with Kate Ross at Curatorial Curiosities about the show here. […]


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