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Artwork by Patrick DolanMore Information

Ways of Seeing

Nottingham Contemporary’s latest exhibition – Huang Yong Ping and Wael Shawky –  is coming to a close this Sunday, 26 June.  And with it comes to an end my first experience of being a Gallery Assistant (GA). Having always been a visitor, or someone working on the exhibition set-up in the past,  my time spent sharing the same physical space as the art has been limited. But here I had the leisure of looking at the works for nearly two months, slowly building up my ideas about the topics explored, and being constantly impressed/amused by visitors’ reactions to the installations and videos. The reactions especially were thought provoking, because everyone has a different take on how art should be looked at.

Two important points I have learnt from my experience as a GA, and that have now changed the way I  explore art exhibitions –

  1. If you really like an artwork and you have a question about it, always ask the GA. In fact talking to the assistants is something I am going to start doing on a regular basis. In most cases they have been specially briefed about the works, have often met the artists, and have read all the literature the gallery archive has. They also tend to be art students, or people passionate about the subject – and therefore are able to give you much more than what the exhibition guide says. And though they might look a bit officious and difficult to approach (especially in their black garb), they are always friendly and eager for a chat. You are guaranteed to feel either enlightened or amused at the end of a conversation with a GA.  And trust me, the feeling is often mutual.
  2. The second point is something I have learnt from frequently having too little time  to go through an exhibition. Trying to juggle the exhibition guide, read the wall text, contemplate the works, and snap a few images, makes me feel rushed as does the brisk walk around the circumference of the room. So a tip that has turned out to be really useful is – when in a  rush stick to the wall text. All the basic information you need is in the text stuck on the wall right next to the work. And every work has it. If you can’t find it ask the GA and he’ll point it out to you. This alone is enough for the moment and the exhibition guide can be tucked away for a leisure read when you have the time. In the end you don’t feel rushed, you still have time to linger, and you take with you a good gist of the exhibition. By all means though, further reading comes strongly recommended.

But back to Nottingham Contemproary. With Huang and Shawky coming down, I’m quite looking forward to the next exhibition. Inspired by the life and work of Jean Genet, it includes artists like Emory Douglas (of the Black Panther Party fame), Mona Hatoum and the Otholith Group among others.

There will also be a new exhibition on view in the Small Collections room, which includes copies of Marvel Comics, works from the Russian Criminal Tattoo Encyclopaedia, and my cringe favorite – a special loan from the Galleries of Justice Museum of items swallowed by convicts in their attempts to escape from prison or kill themselves. Sounds rather macabre but I’ve spent the last two days helping the curator put the drawers together, and I could not take my eyes off the display.

And lastly, on 23rd June from 6-7 pm there will be a special walkthrough round the Huang and Shawky exhibition hosted by the GA’s themselves. This is the last guided tour before the curtain falls and is definitely worth going for. Unfortunately I’m not one of the GA’s doing the talking but hopefully next time.