Eleanor Clayton, Assistant Curator at Tate Liverpool – an interview

Eleanor Clayton, Assistant Curator at Tate Liverpool, was kind enough to answer a few questions about the exhibition, Turner, Monet, Twombly: Later Paintings which we uploaded a review of yesterday. The interview also touches on the process of staging such a show & she gives us the heads up on an exciting show planned for next year.

Louder Than War: Can you give an idea of the timescale and challenges that have to be considered in preparing an exhibition of this scale, from the original idea to the actual opening?

Eleanor Clayton: Every exhibition is different, but exhibitions like Turner Monet Twombly involve borrowing masterpieces by incredibly famous artists from international collections so requires a lot of preparation. This is because there are always exhibitions on Turner, Monet and increasingly Twombly being organised around the world, so the works are committed to be in other locations quite far in advance. To make sure enough of the works that you want are available, you need at least three years.

Louder Than WarThe exhibition focuses on later works by all 3 artists, would there be much less similarity between them as younger men?

Eleanor Clayton Definitely. Turner became well known for his history paintings, which were very detailed and adhered to the style of the times. It was only in later life that he began making the sort of works that inspired the Impressionists, and other modern painters, through their almost abstract depiction of light, among other things. Monet’s earlier work didn’t have the looseness of brush-stroke and freedom from representation that a lot of his later works have, particularly the later water lilies. And Twombly’s mid-career work was more graffiti-esque, often monochrome and without the passion for nature that he developed in later life. So you can see that three very different artists converged in their later work, suggesting that there are some universal themes that people might be drawn to in later life.

Louder Than War: The paintings are arranged under seven headings, did that pose any particular challenges for the space at Tate Liverpool when it came to hanging them for the exhibition?

Eleanor Clayton Actually the space at Tate Liverpool is conveniently divided into seven sections, so this is a fairly standard number of sections for an exhibition. We’re very lucky at Tate Liverpool to have the large warehouse space on the dockside, which is flexible and can be divided up in a number of ways without difficulty. This also helps each show have a different identity so it doesn’t get boring for the visitors!

Louder Than War: Is ”˜The Floating World’ deliberately left until the end,(just as a band may leave their biggest hits until the end of the show) as some people may consider the Monet ”˜Water Lilies’ the highlight and anything after as an anti-climax?

Eleanor Clayton Yes exactly ”“ ”˜The Floating World’ is the ”˜Hey Jude’ of the exhibition! We dotted some of the water lilies throughout the show as well, and there are major works in all the sections, but we wanted to people to leave on a high. The Floating World also gathers up a lot of the themes we explore throughout the exhibition, the interest in nature and cycles, imagery relating to mortality, and the hopefulness of regeneration.

Louder Than War: Do you feel that this exhibition is more challenging for visitors than a more traditional one that may focus on only one artist?

Eleanor Clayton I think the exhibition is extremely generous to visitors, because we’re really encouraging people to just look at the works and see the visual connections between them. You don’t need to come with any prior knowledge of any one painter to enjoy the show, and I think that this is helped by the comparison between artists.

Louder Than War: Jeremy Lewison, exhibition curator, said that many find Twombly quite a difficult artist to understand, but that one of the aims of the exhibition is to make his work more accessible by putting it in context with Turner and Monet, and thereby encouraging a fresh understanding of those two artists as well. To what extent has feedback indicated this has been achieved?

Eleanor Clayton This has worked very well in general ”“ sales of Twombly postcards have been very strong and anecdotally I know people who had never heard of Twombly who now love him! But of course, people will always love Monet.

Poplars on the Epte, Monet, 1891.

Louder Than War: Does being away from the capital pose any extra challenges in arranging exhibitions and how important do you feel it is to have such exhibitions in the North?

Eleanor Clayton Logistically organising an exhibition in the North doesn’t really pose any more challenges but being part of the Tate family certainly helps as we have good relationships with a lot of other major international collections. It is so important to have exhibitions of this significance outside of London in general, and in the North in particular. The North has a hugely vibrant contemporary art scene, and exhibitions like this feed into that, encouraging more people to get into enjoying art, and perhaps supporting more their local art scene.

Louder Than War: Do you have any personal ambitions about a particular artist/artists you would like to exhibit at some time in the future?

Eleanor Clayton I’m fulfilling a personal ambition next year, working with our Artistic Director on an exhibition of work by Sylvia Sleigh. Sylvia was an amazing painter, working in London during the 1950s, and then moving to New York in the early 1960s. There she painted a huge number of portraits of now notable female icons, as well as experimenting with updating and reworking art-historical styles, particularly from the Renaissance and Pre-Raphaelite eras. Like so many female artists of the time, her work has been largely overlooked by the arts establishment, and this will be the first retrospective in the UK. I am very excited about bringing her work to a broader public audience.

All words by Dave Jennings. You can read more from Dave on LTW here.

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