The Art Of Curation


The art world is in the middle of a revolution and the way we use art in our homes is changing. L-J Andrew discovers art’s place in the modern home with renowned art advisor, Oliver Hawkins

For centuries the gatekeepers of ‘good taste’ and artistic value have been galleries, auction houses and major museums. That said, the offer to provide a delineation between ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ art, then charge a percentage to act as arbiter between the two camps, seems increasingly outdated. People can buy art in a myriad ways these days, furthermore, artists can market and transact directly far more easily.

Renderings and AI image generation have given artists the ability to show clients what a piece might look like prior to it being completed or even started. Social media has enabled canny artists to build a following that bypasses traditional galleries, and the rising costs of physical space in major urban centres have further undermined the business case for showing art as in times past.

This has led to a tough market for smaller galleries, and a commensurate rise of the ‘mega gallery’.  So smaller entities have had to think creatively; pop-up exhibition spaces, collaborations with public bodies etc., also giving the public more ways to view art. “I think this is hugely exciting,” Oliver enthuses. “Through my time running Marshall Murray, I’ve built and curated both our own sculpture gardens and interior show spaces, created pop-ups, loaned art for the public square and arranged client events at artists’ studios. It’s been a fascinating journey and I have loved the variation and innovations, none of which have required me to take a long lease on a traditional gallery space. Having to think creatively enabled us to build an alternate way to experience and buy art, as well as for me to help them find the right pieces.”

As art travels down the twisting, turning roads of its evolution, the way we use it in our homes is also changing. As Oliver explains: “Architects are very comfortable seeing their buildings as both sculptural forms and functional spaces, product designers look at both the aesthetic and the user experience, why can’t art have both visual appeal and utility?”

Looking back, the lines between art and architecture or interior design have been blurred for centuries. The flourishes of medieval churches, the incredible masonry and paintings of Greek temples or Ancient Rome are perfect examples of the meeting of worlds. The delineation of the artist rather than the artisan really started during the Renaissance. Patrons gained status by building up the names of the artists they supported, artists gained wealth and respect by positioning themselves closer to poets, philosophers and scholars. They drew from elements of these, moving away from solely creating beautiful things and toward deeper work.

In the 21st Century, the work of Olafur Eliasson or Liz West; the way they use light and colour in their work is undoubtedly related to using lighting features as art themselves, both functional and beautiful. “I’d suggest that much of Tom Dixon’s furniture and lighting can be accurately labelled as art,” Oliver adds. “It’s now only the difference in context, edition size and market positioning, that separates the two.”

“That said,” Oliver confesses, “I think one difference is that art lacks a clear and understandable use, which creates moments of confusion and sparks our sense of curiosity. One can see a chair and compare it to other chairs one has seen previously, or admire a contemporary chandelier and see the familial connection to others. A piece of art may share DNA with either while seeming new and intriguing. We’re pattern-seeking animals, we like to delineate objects into categories, so when something seems just outside our past experiences, we have an inclination to investigate.”

This uncertainty is proving to be a useful tool in a curator’s arsenal, resulting in more intriguing ways of using art in the home. In past projects, Oliver has “hidden” sculptures behind trees with only parts remaining visible, or submerged smaller pieces in long grasses with only the tops poking out. “The former nudged people to move to a less obstructed view, the latter to pay closer attention to what else they might be missing” Oliver explains.

However, we use ‘art’ in our homes, it’s still a key component to creating more interesting and inspiring surroundings, but can also have a big effect on our mood. Our senses are easily manipulated by our surroundings, with studies showing that we’re slightly calmer under blue light and a little more assertive under red light and our circadian rhythms can be helped with light changing to more natural hues.

“We designed an installation for the Chelsea Flower Show years ago featuring an amazing piece by Walter Bailey called Cube, a cuboid around 2.5m in every direction,” Oliver describes. “Each panel carved from the heartwood of a giant sequoia. Streams of light poured through overlapping lattices carved in charred wood, the scent of the redwood and the soft, furry texture of sections of remaining bark, sitting within the sculpture felt like being in a woodland rather than SW1. Not all art needs to hit all of our senses, but I can’t think of a sense that cannot be touched in some way by the right artist.”

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