Meet the curator: Martyn Lucas

Art Unpacked exhibitions are put together by a small team of people at Chrysalis Arts Development, covering everything from developing the initial idea to fundraising, marketing and installation. We work with different curators to develop the ideas for each exhibition, and for Truth and Fantasy we asked Martyn Lucas to work with us.

We asked him to tell us about how he goes about curating an exhibition:

How did you get involved in curating? 

I never set out to be a curator.  I wasn’t sure that I knew what a curator really was.  I was an artist with an interest in how people engage with art and finding ways to earn money in addition to selling (not very many) paintings.

As an artist I often organised my own exhibitions and several community projects had involved displaying art work by people I had worked with, including school children, young people and adults.  The public presentation of these projects made me consider how viewers might look or engage: what were we trying to say? what story was being told? what did we want the audience to take away?

My becoming a curator came about through circumstances rather than ambition.  I took up the opportunity to become full-time manager of a small scale local authority gallery because I thought I could do a good job. I already had strong networks with local artists and communities, and I became responsible for planning, delivering and evaluating programmes of (mainly contemporary) art exhibitions and learning.  With only a very small staff team, I was curator, educator, technician and more…

What are you interested in and how do you devise an exhibition?

I am interested in setting up conversations – between artworks and viewers, artists and audience, and among artworks themselves.  Sometimes I will devise a project from scratch because I have an idea that I think will work, or I might be given a brief, such as a drawing exhibition for Art Unpacked, which I then devise in partnership with artists and the commissioning organisation.

Curating an exhibition is not just choosing your favourite artists and putting their work up on a gallery wall.  There is often a lengthy process of considering a theme, researching artists I don’t know as well as those with whom I am familiar, and imagining how different audiences might engage with their work.  I am interested in how an art work might draw you in after its initial impact:  how it reveals the history of its own making (the material it’s made of); how it resonates with a viewer and with other artworks around it (what it might be about); and how it sits within a space.  The role of a curator is to ‘listen’, to get the best out of a work and provide ‘ways in’ for viewers.

What else are you involved in?

I regularly organise exhibitions at West Yorkshire Print Workshop and with my studio group, Cross Street Arts in Wigan.  In addition, I am working with Leigh Neighbours, for whom I curated a project which took place a few years ago outside the gallery and on the streets.  To a greater or lesser extent, all these projects engage my own artistic vision, and certainly all of them involve dialogue and collaboration with artists and people.

What would be your dream exhibition to curate?

 I have had the privilege in the past to curate some fantastic exhibitions, including working in partnership with the Arts Council Collection, established British painter Tony Bevan, U2’s show designer Willie Williams and more recently, my partner Paula Fenwick-Lucas and 20 North-West and London artists in a show called ‘Intimate’.  People remember and still talk about these exhibitions, and I guess my ‘dream’ exhibition is the one which has an impact and is talked about long after it has ended.