How to Exhibit, Part 2: Tips and Advice from Curator Jason Jones

If you are just starting your journey into the world of art, getting your work exhibited is probably at the top of your “to-do” list. We recently published a list of the best ways to get your artwork into exhibitions, with some excellent tips and advice from artist John C. Maloney, who is also a tutor in Graphic Design and Illustration with the Interactive Design Institute. But what do the people creating exhibitions have to say? We got in touch with Jason Jones, a curator of the Cornerstone Gallery in Liverpool, who was happy to give us another perspective on the subject…

Jason Jones1. What do you look for when selecting artwork or an artist for an exhibition at the Cornerstone?

As the Cornerstone is located within an academic institution, process, concept and technical ability is of major importance; all works presented underpin academic study within the different material and process areas of the Fine and Applied Arts. Interdisciplinary collaborations between exhibitions are also important, and this can help to broaden students’ concepts, ideas and imagination of what ‘art’ is, and what it can be. Performance art, dance, drama, music and even magical illusions have all been involved in the gallery’s programme of events over the last ten years. In addition to this, topical, current, challenging and informative artwork or exhibition themes aid the educational exhibition programme content.

2. What are your top tips for getting work exhibited?

The most important criteria for me personally (as both artist and curator) is developing a strong body of work, underpinned by theory that is both interesting and accessible. Having a strong portfolio is important, but it is just as important to know the art market, where the galleries are, which gallery represents what type of work, who their target audience is, and do they receive much press coverage? This last part may seem ambitious to those starting out, but all serious artists need to build their CV and receiving reviews or being published in any way is an important part of your career development.

3. What are your top tips for setting up an exhibition yourself?

Setting up your own exhibition can be a costly affair, and I would always recommend that all aspects, potential expenses and worst-case scenarios are thought through. Being prepared for anything is a positive mind-set to have. I have been installing exhibitions all over the country for ten years and nothing is ever clockwork.

In respect of exhibition content, presentation style and curatorial approach, I would recommend that you evaluate other exhibitions with similar themes or content. Borrow and develop the good bits you like and think outside of the box during this development of your ideas. This is important for the physical arrangement of the show as well as the manner in which information is communicated and the viewer is invited to engage with the show.

Cornerstone gallery

Visitors at the Cornerstone gallery

4. Are there any noticeable changing exhibition trends (e.g. type of venues) you are aware of?

Since TATE reinvented the wheel with TATE Modern at the turn of the century, the method and curatorial practices that govern exhibition theory and practice have grown from strength to strength. Collections are becoming very important again as this is what attracts capital funding with Western exhibition programming.

Aside from this, and close to my heart, is the long overdue re-examination of the naked male within historical, but more importantly, contemporary art. The naked male is not quite the last taboo in art but exhibitions examining this theme in Italy and Paris have recently opened the doors to this avenue of inquiry. We often think of ourselves as open-minded and modern thinkers but these exhibitions have ruffled feathers within the general public.

5. Do you consider an artist’s qualifications when you are exhibiting work?

As the Cornerstone Gallery Exhibition Manager and Curator – yes, I do. Artists’ exhibition history, where they have trained and what they have achieved is important. There is a standard that needs to be retained as well as consideration of the public engagement and promotional advantages. However, that is not to say I haven’t included artists who do not possess the above. If the work is good enough and it fits the criteria and communicates the curatorial theme, it is the curator’s job to get the information out there, convince and sell the idea to the audience. Once you have the viewer through the door, the exhibition should do the work for you.

6. What has been your most successful exhibition so far and why?

The Cornerstone has a dynamic exhibition history. Some exhibitions are more fun than others, while some have offered challenging comments on global conflicts. The Pre-paid Charity Postcard Exhibition and Blind Auctions are fun events where artists, both famous and local, are invited to donate artwork on a postcard to be exhibited anonymously and sold for charity. This is always interesting as it is one show where people really study the work. A show by Martin Greenland (winner of the 2006 John Moores Painting Prize) was a great exhibition, as to work with such an accomplished painter, and realise your aims with his work in a space you know so well, was a real pleasure. By comparison, artwork by inmates of Walton Prison, Liverpool was just as interesting as it engaged you with the age old question of what art is, and who can be an artist.

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