Holly Grange, Curator of the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Art Collection at The Whitworth, travelled to Lille and Paris in October 2017 on an ICOM UK - HWB Travel Grant. This is the report from her visit.
The original purpose in applying to the ICOM - HWB Travel Grant Scheme was to visit European collections of Outsider Art and organisations that work with marginalised artists, in order to grow a network of specialist organisations working in this field. The plan was to meet with curators and academics in order to gather expertise and best practice in the (relatively new) area of curating Outsider Art. Currently, there are no other equivalent institutions in the UK with substantial collections of Outsider Art, which is why knowledge-sharing with European colleagues is so essential. Additionally, I was seeking to forge partnerships that would lead to a large-scale touring exhibition in 2019/2020 (funded by Creative Europe), along with other future partnership opportunities.
I visited the Outsider Art Fair, Halle Saint Pierre, La Maison Rouge, Magnin-A Gallery (all in Paris) and Lille Métropole Museum of Modern, Contemporary and Outsider Art (LaM).
The visit overall was very beneficial in terms of our original aims. I met with nearly all of the organisations that we want to partner with for our application to Creative Europe (deadline this January), as they were all in Paris for the Outsider Art Fair. Some of the partners were already agreed but wanted further information about the application process – which I was able to provide in person. Others were potential partners who had not yet decided whether to collaborate with us on the Creative Europe project but were persuaded after meeting and further discussion (i.e. Outsider Art Museum, Amsterdam). Additionally, two new partners were recruited for this project – Museum Lagerhaus (Switzerland) and Museum Dr Guislain (Belgium) - both of which will bring their own unique expertise and research focus to the project.
The visit to LaM in Lille was also very fruitful. I was able to spend a day with the curator Savine Faupin and meet the director Sebastien Delot, as well as colleagues from learning, conservation and library and archives. I was able to gather information on their programming, their curatorial approach to working with their Art Brut collection, some of the wonderful outreach work that have done with marginalised artists, their institutional approach to interpretation/terminology when working with Outsider Art, their museum-standard storage solutions for some of the more fragile works of OA, and their techniques and approaches to conservation.
I presented to Savine Faupin on our collection, raising awareness of the Musgrave Kinley Collection as a potential source of loans for them but also of the Whitworth as a collaborative partner for future exhibitions/projects. I was able to pitch the Creative Europe project in person to Savine and we are now continuing conversations with them as to their involvement with this.
A meeting with Andrew Eldin (Gallerist and Outsider Art Fair organiser) has led to a conversation about the Whitworth curating a display from the Musgrave Kinley Collection at the Fair either in 2018/19 to highlight the significance of this collection to our European colleagues and wider audiences in Europe.
In terms of challenges, I had originally planned to visit the OAM in Amsterdam as part of this trip. However, the Director Hans Looijens was not able to meet in Amsterdam earlier on in the week as originally planned. The scheduling had to be re-arranged and the meeting moved to the Saturday in Paris.
I have a more comprehensive knowledge of the Outsider art world as a result of this visit: in particular the commercial galleries, the public museums and galleries, collectors and artists who operate in Europe, but also in Japan, the US and Moscow. I have also made a wide network of contacts, which will no doubt be of benefit to future collaborative programming, knowledge sharing and transnational mobility (loans in and loans out) of artworks. In addition, I have gained insight into the ways that other galleries and museums work with their Outsider/Art Brut collections, in terms of their differing curatorial approaches, different views on language/terminology and the various ways they choose create platforms for marginalised creators in their communities (and in some cases are choosing to move away from Health and Well-being work/Outreach and towards more art-historical research-focused work).
In particular, the day spent at LaM was beneficial in terms of knowledge and experience gained. Lessons in best practice in terms of conserving Outsider Art, display systems for Outsider Art, approaches to integrating OA collections with wider Fine Art collections and case studies for ways of working with marginalised artists – will all be directly applicable to our work with the Musgrave Kinley Collection at the Whitworth. I will be feeding this back at a number of team meetings with conservation, learning and curatorial departments at the Whitworth in the next month.
The opportunity to meet European partners who were are working with on the Creative Europe bid face to face to build trust and relationships and to discuss content for the bid, was absolutely invaluable and will contribute to on-going partnership working in the future.
My top tips for sector colleagues undertaking similar visits are:
- Capitalise on occasions when a number of international partners will be in one place at the same time- i.e. during an art fair or conference. This will maximise the number of meetings you can have and will be more efficient time-wise, not to mention economical!
- Cultural differences can affect international partnership working in a number of ways: communication, etiquette and organisational hierarchy can differ greatly from the UK. Be conscious that a term such as ‘Outsider’ can hold a myriad of different meanings. Try to use direct and brief sentences when speaking to partners for whom English is not the first language.
- Do not suppose familiarity with your organisation - even if you are somewhat established in the UK. Take guidebooks or information packs about your organisation, collection and mission statement with images.
- The UK Museum sector is on the whole very aware of the potential for museums to be agents of social inclusion, as well as places that can provide health and well-being benefits. Bear in mind when speaking to other international partners that they may not believe that museums need to fulfil this role. During this visit we came across galleries whose collections were built on the artwork of psychiatric patients but who were not at all interested in engaging with mental health programmes or outreach.
- Sometimes persuading colleagues at international organisations to host you for a day or a number of days, when everyone’s incredibly busy and stretched, can be somewhat of a hard sell. However, mentioning the fact that the trip was ICOM and HWB funded – meant that organisations were more likely to oblige as ICOM has a particular global reputation that is recognised.
- When asking to visit an organisation for the day, do not pre-suppose that they will arrange a day’s programme of meetings for you. Make sure you are clear from the start about the purpose of the research visit, which colleagues in which departments you wish to speak with and what you hope to get from the visit. Emphasise how the visit will be mutually beneficial- not just to the visiting organisation but also the host organisation.
The visit has enabled the Whitworth to build new connections and strengthen existing relationships between the Musgrave Kinley Outsider Collection and European organisations with collections of marginalised art. For me, personally, it has been an invaluable experience of international partnership working for the first time and has grown my expertise, contacts and confidence.
"This international visit has allowed the Whitworth to develop significant new international relationships that will result in new collaborations and shared expertise."
Dr. Samantha Lackey, Acting Head of Collection and Exhibitions, The Whitworth
You can follow Holly's next international visits and progress on the European partnership project via her blog: https://musgravekinleycollection.wordpress.com/