Curating 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 retrospective exhibition honouring the late Prof Neville Dubow at the Irma Stern Museum. To see the first introductory edition of the series, click here.
Curating Behind the Scenes #02: Pre-production
The late professor Neville Dubow put us to work this week. The Thinking Eye, an exhibition of his photographs, opens at the Irma Stern museum on 16 May. Check your calendar: 16 May is tomorrow! I, intern, met curators Marilyn Martin and Paul Weinberg at his office at UCT Special Collections to (just about) finalise the selection of photographs for the show.
One of the joys of interning is getting to listen to the experts plot and plan their new work. Much time was spent deciding which group of photographs would go into which room and why. Of course each room has a theme that needs to weave into a sort of non-chronological non-narrative so that the exhibition can be enjoyed no matter where the viewer first directs their gaze.
One needs to soak up these fly-on-the-wall moments with the experts, because next thing you know, you’re running into the bowels of the Special Collections archive to retrieve the actual works and run them up to Paul’s top-floor office. Luckily prints aren’t that heavy, and not many of the pictures are framed. (The story of framing and restoration is perhaps best left for another day – one where we can be sure there’s a happy ending.)
Meanwhile, as part of a project affiliated with the upcoming exhibition, the Michaelis School of Fine Art fourth-year photography students got together with facilitators Josh Ginsburg and Matthew King to assess their work in relation to Neville’s. Most of them hadn’t heard of Neville before this informal workshop, but when they started to pick out common themes, a visual conversation ignited swiftly.
One student, Kasey Leigh Davies, discovered her thinking eye has been on a very similar mental journey to Neville’s when it comes to capturing architecture. Kasey’s work is different in that it harnesses modern technology in a way that Neville couldn’t have, but the dialogue between their images is undeniable. Needless to say, she’s a big fan.
You may or may not be able to see the budding photographers’ work in relation to Neville’s in a book they may or may not make which may or may not be at the exhibition. The workshop is still in its early stages and much is still undecided. The point is that Neville Dubow’s body of work is far from irrelevant. It continues to inspire and speak to today’s fresh talent.
Academic Robert Storr writes that a good exhibition needs to be somewhat open-ended, even if the artist is dead. People need to continue to think about issues raised by the art long after they’re out of proximity. As the fourth-year students mull over Dubow’s work, you could say this exhibition is already living up to Storr’s ideal. And it hasn’t even opened.
Header image: The ‘yes, no, maybe’ piles of Dubow’s work in the heart of UCT Special Collections – by Daniël Geldenhuys