On Thursday 7th April our group was lucky enough to have a behind the scenes tour of Tate Liverpool from Ken Simons. This included visiting the various gallery spaces and discussing the issues that can be encountered when displaying works and what needs to be considered. At length we discussed how the condition of the work influences how it can be displayed, but also the practical limitations of the gallery space such as wall and ceiling height.
To begin our tour we started in the loading area to see where the artworks come in and how they handle them using heavy lifting equipment and specially designed crates. The piece that was frequently mentioned was Matisse’s Snail. This work was one of the largest that Tate Liverpool has ever dealt with. Next we moved onto the display of Matisse’s work on the ground floor. Ken told us about the curation of the exhibition and how the weight of the paintings and sculptures have to be taken into account, for example a heavy sculpture could crack the floor or a heavy painting (The Snail) could pull the wall down if not fitted properly. Because of this special brackets are used to hold up the paintings. Despite The Snail being a great piece of art, it is arguably not best displayed at Tate Liverpool as the positioning of it means that light still reflects off it, although the glass is non-reflective. This led us on to discuss the advances of technology in the gallery and that modern non-reflective glass is much better but far more expensive. However, to see The Snail in Liverpool is a pleasure regardless.
With the Tate being a contemporary gallery the use of multimedia is very important, therefore projected videos are a central part. Ken told us about the difficult of running these old machines, particularly the motorised 8mm and 16mm projectors as these are prone to failing especially when being used for most of the day, everyday. In this respect digital projectors are more reliable. However, the importance of conserving the artworks in their original condition with original parts is a main focus for the Tate, the balance between keeping the works in good order and using the original parts can be a compromise particularly those with mechanical parts such as Enrico David’s ‘Untitled” (2002).
On the first and second floors, we examined the Constellations series and how the themes of the artworks inter-connect to create a narrative throughout the gallery. We discussed the advantages and disadvantages of this and how the layout of the gallery impacts this. The Tate tries to keep the space as open as possible, so to not seem overcrowded by people or art. Ken told us about how they are able to create small rooms to house works by using false walls. We then thought about other ways of keeping the gallery space as open as possible by using transparent materials such as glass, however this poses its own problem as it would not be able to support the works.
Following a look around Ken’s workshop where he and his team make frames and fittings for the artworks, we entered the fourth exhibition floor which was closed for preparation for the Francis Bacon exhibition that begins in May. The gallery space was completely opened up, there were no walls or dividers. This was great to see as it is rarely done and was last presented this way as a sculpture gallery many years ago. It would be wonderful if the Tate could show more exhibitions like this as the space would certainly make for a different interaction with the work. After the tour, we were able to ask any questions and what I took from the visit was how many things need to be considered. It is not just a case of where an artwork looks best, the weight, height, condition and framing are all equally as important and can be the curation process quite difficult.