OCA North Study Day – Halifax – 8th March 2020

Vic Allen with a print of ‘Catchpoint’ (1932) by Bill Brandt. (Credit: Andrew Fitzgibbon)

Despite our guest OCA tutor being unable to attend the meeting at the last minute due to being unwell, we decided not to cancel our planned event as it had been in the diary for some time. I am so glad that we did as the day turned out to be well worth the journey with Vic Allen, arts director at Dean Clough Galleries where we hold the meetings more than ably filling the afternoon with an informative and entertaining presentation about holding an exhibition at the venue. By his own admission Vic can talk, but in a good way! He covered so much in his presentation, from the business of running a gallery, the history of the site and his personal views and opinions on art – all with great humour and enthusiasm. I have included some notes below that I managed to jot down as Vic spoke, although I must admit that most of the time I just enjoyed listening to him generously share his knowledge. The meeting ended with the group enthused about the possibility of holding a group exhibition next year, although it was apparent that this would require a great deal of work and collaboration. We agreed to focus on the practicalities of making this a reality at the next meeting and to putting ideas more formally together.

Notes from Vic’s presentation:

  • There are established ideas about what the art world is – however – in reality it is hard to activate and is often different to what is expected or assumed.
  • The artist needs to take responsibility for creating their own ‘art world’ through building connections, networks and engaging with like minded individuals.
    • Artists are often the best patrons and supporters for other artists.
  • Exhibitions are not about selling work but about seeing work in a different context and gaining feedback.
    • This moves an artists practice along and helps them develop.
    • Exhibitions can show the strengths and weaknesses in a body of work and present unexpected opportunities of viewpoint.
    • Exhibiting is an ongoing education – all artists should strive to exhibit as much as they can.
    • We learn from our mistakes not our successes and these move an artists practice on.
    • The collaboration between artist/curator/venue should not be underestimated.
  • Art vs. culture – an antagonistic relationship
    • Culture can be described as habit and art should be about breaking habits.
      • e.g. The Mona Lisa is now so much a part of cultural iconography that it can no longer be consider art.
    • Becoming a famous artist can mean having to (or being forced to) repeat the same formula.
    • Art should have a sell by date to keep it fresh.
    • Art is wider than the gallery space.
  • The gallery is to art what a car show room is to a car.
    • But cars aren’t built to be kept in a show room – they are for journeys and travelling.
  • You can’t have an art world where only great artists exist.
    • Art is not about excellence but about living life with artistic values.
  • Obsession with galleries as the only place to show art is a problem for the art world – too insular.
  • Dean Clough philosophy is about holding a mirror up to the community and inviting them in.
    • Exhibitions range from master to amateur – an approach not embraced by the art world usually!
  • What motivates you to make art?
    • Money?
      • Adulation?
        • Reverence?
          • Social impulse/impact?
            • Sense of fulfilment?
  • Dean Clough operates an open submissions policy (unusual for the art world) with exhibitors being chosen by a panel.
    • See Dean Clough submission guidelines on website here.
    • When making submissions think carefully about how/who to approach – important to build a process of connectivity with places would like to exhibit.
    • Visit and understand the venue.
    • Send concise information
      • It is best to package proposals as definite suggestions rather than leaving open ended which forces a yes/no response.
      • Submissions should be focussed and not overwhelming – “never send two paintings when one will do.”
  • Go to exhibitions and openings.
    • Opportunity to network and make connections.
    • Also the right thing to be interested in new work and galleries as a practicing artist – inspiration.
  • Have a website/web presence.
    • Only problem with this is it being out of date!
  • Deadlines can be useful in not letting work drag on unfinished forever.
    • Can also be a psychological benefit when things aren’t perfect!
  • Maintain a database of contacts – anyone who has expressed interested in work.
    • This is also your fanbase!
This famous 1932 photograph by Bill Brandt was brought out by Vic in a matter of fact way to illustrate a point he was making about the perceived value of art. (He quipped that a vintage print of the same image had recently sold for £140k, but as this was a later, and inferior print he thought it was only worth about £60k!) The scene where the image was shot, although clearly much changed, could be viewed from the room where our meeting was taking place. It felt like a privilege to view such an iconic photograph while at the same time I loved the way Vic showed admiration, but not reverence, for it. For the majority of the meeting it stood propped on the floor in the corner of the room – I wondered was it the image itself, the famous photographer or the value of the photograph that made it so special, and indeed, how much of this influenced how I felt about it.

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