Curating behind the scenes is a blog-style series written by Daniël Geldenhuys, taking readers through the behind-the-scenes process of organising and curating a retrospective exhibition honouring the late Prof Neville Dubow at the Irma Stern Museum, opening on Saturday 16 May. See the rest of the series here.
Curating behind the scenes #04: Keep calm and curate.
There’s really no other way of saying it: the past week has been real. The deadline for the printing of the exhibition catalogue seemed more daunting than the one for the opening of the physical exhibition. The Thinking Eye: Photographs by Neville Dubow opens at Irma Stern Museum this Saturday, 16 May – there’s got to be a catalogue by then too, and a hundred-page book with essays and a complete collection of the works on show doesn’t just fall out of thin air.
We interns, Antonia Bamford and myself, sat down with curators Marilyn Martin and Paul Weinberg on numerous occasions to work on the catalogue. It’s a valuable curatorial exercise because it forces you to make sure that you have your artworks correctly selected and that each one is accounted for. Paul, seemingly effortlessly although it must have taken hours, produced a file of fully digitized works in the exhibition. Marilyn lit literary fires under the various catalogue essay contributors, producing a collection of written work that pays fitting tribute to the late legend Neville Dubow.
The level of precision and professionalism needed to produce the catalogue may have been the ultimate test for Team Dubow so far. If I do say so myself, we passed it with flying colours. Apart from being a tribute to Dubow, the exhibition (and the catalogue) will also be a testimony to the efficiency of the show’s curatorial team.
But wait, there’s more! It’s been decided that the Michaelis fourth year photographers will have a mini exhibition in a separate room at Irma Stern. The works on show were brought to the curators’ attention through the workshops the fourth years have been doing on Dubow’s work. Each photograph echoes Dubow’s work in a surprising way, seeing that the photographers weren’t familiar with the work when they produced the photographs that will be on show. We interns are liaising with four very excited emerging photographers about getting their work ready for the show. Judging by the quality of their work, you may want to invest now before they become unaffordable.
Through it all, there have been some tranquil moments that didn’t include flurries of emails and logistical mind mazes. One was tea with Neville’s wife Rhona and Irma Stern Museum Director Christopher Peter overlooking the throbbing Sea Point ocean from Rhona’s ninth-floor apartment. We were actually there to borrow some artworks for the show, but one must grab opportunities for tea and a view when they present themselves.
Tea was served as a coffee alternative at the Revel Fox & Partners offices in De Waterkant a few weeks ago. We interns tagged along with Marilyn to inspect the architects’ archives. Neville Dubow may have become known mostly in the local art and academic world, but he was in fact trained as an architect. Before he made the shift to art, he was a valuable addition to the Revel Fox office in the early sixties. Luckily for us, the firm has done a brilliant job of preserving their archive, and we got to inspect many an early Neville drawing, choosing a few to display in the show.
Some of Neville’s old drawings were recorded on microfilms, a sort of slide that needs to be viewed with a machine that looks like a TV from twenty years ago crossed with a gadget from the spaceship in the original Alien film with Sigourney Weaver. Antonia and I had lots of fun figuring it out. In case you ever come across one, just turn the nobs until something makes sense. And don’t forget to switch it on.
Fast forwarding back to today: the catalogue is with the printers (yay!) and all that’s left is to hang the exhibition. Sounds simple? Who knows. This is my first time. Stay tuned.
Header image: Antonia Bamford reading a microfilm at Revel Fox & Partners. Photographed by Daniël Geldenhuys.