INTERVIEW WITH PENELOPE SEXTON
Penelope Sexton is a curator at Compton Verney a Contemporary Art Gallery set in the most beautiful grounds of a mansion house. The Gallery is very close to my home town Royal Leamington Spa and the shows i saw there were highly informative and shaped the way I learnt about Contemporary Art growing up ( Thanks Mum for taking me there ! We always had a lovely day out… ! Here’s the interview …….. !!!!!
Please tell me about your role as a curator at Compton Verney:
Ø My role at Compton Verney allows me to come up with ideas and then to develop these ideas into exhibitions for our visitors to see and experience. I spend a lot of time planning shows, researching ideas, researching national collections, talking to curators about their collections, artists, themes; I work with academics to ensure my knowledge is correct and I work closed with my teams here to organise the logistics of the exhibition I am presenting. I also write and edit catalogues for the exhibitions, work with the visitor engagement and learning teams to help engage visitors with the themes, marketing teams to promote the show, and the finance team to ensure I am in budget. I have also worked on commissions outside in our 120 acres of ground, which can be more complicated than installing a work inside. I also commission for my exhibitions as well.
· How did you get into the working in the Arts ?:
Ø I did my 1st degree in Art History; 2nd degree in Gallery Studies; a postgrad in Museum & Galleries Studies; I am a Clore Fellow see:https://www.cloreleadership.org/network ; and I have been working in this field for approx. 20 yrs.
Ø I started by working as a volunteer in my local museum; and then after my Masters I was an intern in a commercial gallery in London, which led to them giving me a job as Exhibitions and Marketing Assistant where I worked for 3 years. After then I got my first proper curatorial role as Assistant Curator of Art in Exeter (www.RAMM.gov.uk); I then did a year’s stint as Curator of Contemporary and Modern Art at Norwich Castle Museum which was part of an exchange programme; I then went back to Exeter and became Curator of Exhibitions. I was in Exeter for a total of 6 years. After then I got a job as Curator at Compton Verney; I have recently been promoted to Senior Curator. I also alongside Compton Verney guest lecture in curatorial studies at Sotheby’s Institute, London and I have recently been asked to ask guest lecture at Bath Spa Uni.
· What was the best show you ever worked on?:
Ø This is tricky as all my shows are so different, I do like it when I am able to commission new work alongside show fantastic historic pieces, and I certainly did this for my Seurat to Riley: The Art of Perception show in 2017.
· What is the worst show you ever worked on?:
Ø This is also tricky, as the shows content was fantastic and I don’t want to be negative about the overall experience, however, the showTapestry: Weaving the century at the Dovecot Studios was the most difficult. 85% of the show was tapestry, which are difficult to hang, very large, and all need barriers as they are not glazed. In had never worked on a textiles show before so it was very new to me and also I don’t personally have a great interest in that form of art work!
· If you could curate your dream show what Artist(s) / theme would it be ?:
Ø I have SO many ideas, however this is probably one that I would never be able to achieve mainly due to costs and possibilities. I would like to do a show on Christo and Jeanne Claude. I wrote my dissertation on them and I love the work. Christo is still work (Jeanne Claude died) and still producing fantastic large scale projects. I would like to show photos of his previous projects, art works that are still existing (if any, as his work is ephemeral), and videos of his projects. And I would like him to do a site specific project on site here at Compton Verney. Using the lake, our woodlands and ideally wrapping the mansion house. I can but dream!
· Any advice for an upcoming curator reading this?:
Ø Things are so different nowadays from when I tried to be a curator. There are not as many appointments for specialist subject curators now; people stay in their jobs quite a long time – so if you want a specific job somewhere it might not ever happen as people don’t move. There are less curators than ever before so it is a very competitive market! I would say you need to much more awareness of new technologies; understand your audiences much better than before and actively encourage engagement and be aware of this when planning exhibitions; also funding is limited so unless you work for a major museum of gallery you won’t have high budgets; so become budget savvy – learn as much as you can about saving money and fundraisings, whilst at the same time do not ever underpay artists if you’re working with them, absolutely respect their fees. Finally, if you can volunteer as much as possible, seek as many opportunities that you can, go to events, network and meet people. Hopefully all this will stand you in good stead!