open doors: making your mark on the art world


Whether it’s the vast Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern or the towering Pavilion at the Serpentine Gallery, the art world is notoriously intimidating. Combine this with the reality that I am young, broke and not from London, and it’s easy to feel as though the whole art industry is against me. So when the opportunity arises for me to get my foot in the door, I won’t just tentatively lean in, I will barge my whole way through whilst shouting about my love for art.

This is exactly what I did at the Open Doors lectures in London this July. There were a series of free professional development talks for aspiring artistic-types organised in collaboration with Art Fund. It brought together fourteen leading industry professionals to share their experiences and explore the diverse possibilities within the art sector. As a member of Crop Up Gallery, a student run curatorial group in Nottingham, I was lucky enough to gain funding to attend the talks. One of our aims for upcoming exhibitions is to reach a wider audience and explore our place in the art industry at both a local and national level. So, armed with funding for my train tickets, a notebook, far too many business cards, and a whole lot of enthusiasm for art, I set off for the Old Truman Brewery in Shoreditch.

The talks took place over three days and featured, quite possibly, the entirety of the London art scene – from Helen Sumpter, Editor of the Art Quarterly, to film director, Lawrence Lek. But the stand-out talks were hosted by Kirsty Ogg, Director of New Contemporaries, and Jo Glover, Head of Design at the Tate.


Kirsty Ogg characterises herself as an outcast in the world of curation, having originally been a sculptor and member of Transmission Gallery, an artist run space in Glasgow. However, she quickly realised that she preferred showcasing other artists’ works to her own and started displaying exhibitions in her flat. She described how when she first started out in the early 1990s, curation didn’t exist as its own separate entity, and it wasn’t until the 2000s when the art world adapted and it became a discipline in its own right. Themes of change in the art world featured throughout her talk and she was obviously preoccupied with ideas of innovation and modernisation. She talked about the recent advances in the digital arts and the new need to embrace digitisation.

Furthermore, she stressed that there is a growing trend away from focus on London and towards smaller regional cities. As the current Director of New Contemporaries, she acknowledged that it is increasingly difficult for aspiring artists and curators to operate in the capital due to the rising cost of living and studio space alienating most people. As one of these aspiring artists and curators, it was encouraging to hear how they are committed to creating a national portfolio and I was particularly excited to hear her mention their work with BACKLIT gallery in Nottingham. As a Nottingham based art collective, Crop Up have a history with BACKLIT and we collaborated with them for our successful ‘Work In Progress’ exhibition earlier this year. As such, I came away from her talk very optimistic and ready to singlehandedly take on the entire art world.


I found myself having to get over the urge to as the next speaker – Jo Glover, Head of Design at the Tate – for her autograph. I have always looked at the Tate with a certain kind of reverence. It is an iconic institution whose name conjures up images of the artistic elite, so to hear from somebody who is involved behind the scenes was fascinating. In the past, she has been involved in high-profile exhibitions at the V&A including Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty and David Bowie Is. More recently she worked on the David Hockney: 60 Years of Work exhibition at the Tate Britain – an exhibition which my mum and I went down to London especially to see (proving that her marketing strategy works!).


Glover doesn’t come from an art background – alternatively she began in advertising and marketing. As such she had a unique perspective on curation that most art professionals don’t possess and I think it is something that is evident in her work. It was a brilliantly curated exhibition, but what stood out to me was her advertising campaign and how it managed to capture the playfulness of Hockney’s work in just three posters. I even have one hanging on my wall at home (alongside Lowry).

To have someone from such a celebrated gallery come and speak, along with an art veteran like Kirsty Ogg, was brilliant. It made the seemingly impenetrable art world appear a little bit more accessible and offered an invaluable insight into the realities of the art world.

(Thank you to Crop Up for funding my train tickets, without which I wouldn’t have been able to attend the talks because I’m northern and broke and the art world hates me for it).

Written by Alice Avis



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