unnamedCurating behind the scenes is a new blog-style series written by Daniël Geldenhuys, taking readers through the behind-the-scenes process of organising and curating an up-coming exhibition at the Irma Stern Museum.

Curating behind the scenes : Picking the pieces

A lot of people don’t know who Neville Dubow is. About thirty years ago you’d have been embarrassed not to know. Back then he was a VIP bordering on living legend: founding director of the Irma Stern Museum, hugely influential lecturer at Michaelis School of Fine Art, board member at the Iziko South African National Gallery… You may now blush.

Today, thousands may be saved the embarrassment by attending an exhibition at the Irma Stern Museum opening 16 May. The Thinking Eye: A retrospective honouring the late Professor Neville Dubow, a mainly photographic show, will get you up to speed with the work of a man whose legacy continues to inform the way photography students at Michaelis are taught today. Combine that with his influence at previously mentioned institutions, and there’s a chance you’ve already been influenced by Dubow in some vague way.

A lot of people don’t know who I am, but that’s nothing to be embarrassed about. All you need to know is that I’m doing my Honours in Curatorship at UCT’s Centre for Curating the Archive this year. As a result, I’ve been assigned an internship on the Dubow exhibition (score!). Ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes at a museum? So have I. It’s my mission to learn as much as possible on this internship, and share it here.

Curating the Dubow show is curator extraordinaire Marilyn Martin and legendary photographer Paul Weinberg. (If you don’t know who they are, just use my adjectives until you’ve done your research and you’ll be fine.) I sat down with the two of them last week in Paul’s office at UCT’s Special Collections to whittle down Dubow’s impressive body of work.

Apart from all Dubow’s official art photography, there are thousands of shots taken on his global travels. This entire collection was gifted by his wife Rhona to Special Collections when Dubow passed away in 2008. Now Marilyn and Paul need to decide which ones can be considered disposable snapshots, and which truly showcase his artistic talent. They make an efficient team – Marilyn will point out a famous world site, and Paul will discern whether or not the image is strong enough from a photographic perspective.

The process is friendly and collaborative. Even I, intern, need not shy away from voicing my opinion. The provisional selection of works is decided upon, but this is just the beginning.

Before you get to see the exhibition, works are being commissioned from museums, frames are being ordered, photographs are being dusted off, and the exhibition is being rendered digitally in the programme Sketch Up. Oh, and did I mention the catalogue? I’ll be there through it all: shadowing, ordering coffee, framing, and finally reporting. Stay tuned.

Header image – The view from Paul Weinberg’s office at UCT Special Collections, overlooking the African Studies Library. Photographed by Daniël Geldenhuys.