Never post your pants to a gallery

Tate Collective’s lunch-time chat with Exhibitions & Displays Curator Laura Smith about her recent curating roles, and the do’s and don’ts of being successful in the art world.

By Rachael Coward

Laura Smith, Exhibitions & Displays Curator at Tate St. Ives joined Tate Collective St. Ives for lunch to discuss her recent role as one of the curators for this year’s Turner Prize at Tate Britain in London, and to share her journey through the art world, starting by studying Fine Art at Glasgow School of Art.

After completing her degree, Smith began to realise her interests in curating when she started putting together pop-up shows hosting the work of her friends in unused buildings. This lead to studying a masters in Art Theory at Falmouth School of Art, followed by a successful application to the Royal College of Art to study their masters programme in curating for two years. Smith described this as some of the hardest years of her career, but these have luckily lead to her appointment as Exhibitions & Displays Curator of Tate St. Ives with many successful shows now under her belt. Smith’s most recent undertaking has been to co-curate this year’s Turner Prize exhibition at Tate Britain, and she is now back in Cornwall to prepare for the re-opening of Tate St Ives in March 2017 with a new show entitled The Studio and the Sea.

Curating, according to Smith, to put it simply is “putting stuff in a room”, but more importantly than that, Smith’s key objective in her curatorial practice is to expose artists whose lives don’t fit the narrative that Art History wants to tell.

“I like showing people something that they have never seen before… something new.”

For an artwork to be successful in Smith’s eyes, it is important to be able to FEEL the work, for it to have an immediate impact when you first encounter it. She stresses the importance of seeing works first hand, but when it comes to selecting works to display in her own shows, Smith is often working from photographic reproductions on computer screens as the works are on the other side of the world; and so instinct has to be trusted to select works of art that are going to work well together. This is a skill that has been refined through years of practice.

 “You can never tell what the work is going to do until it arrives.”

So what about the next generation of art enthusiasts? Smith leaves us with some tips for surviving the art world, both as a maker and a curator;

  1. Let your practice as an artist be an evolution, don’t be afraid of change.
  2. It’s really good to test yourself as a curator, even if you don’t want to be one. Try hanging your own work with other artists’ work and see what happens.
  3. Hang pop-up shows, test yourself, experiment. Art on display acts very differently to when it is in a studio.
  4. Successful curators have a comprehensive knowledge of the space that they place artworks in; do your homework!
  5. The relationship that a curator has with an artist is much more important than where a piece of work hangs on the wall; learn to compromise.
  6. And finally, and this is a really important one: Arrange suitable delivery of artworks in advance with a curator, not unannounced. And NEVER post your pants to a gallery. No matter the reason, curators really don’t like them in amongst their morning post.