Jo Baring a former Director of Christie’s UK is currently the Director of the Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art. She has curated exhibitions at public galleries and museums across the U.K and has arranged loans of privately-owned artworks to The Royal Academy; Dulwich Picture Gallery; Hepworth Wakefield; Pallant House Gallery; and the Jerwood Gallery, amongst others.
Richard Stone is an established painter and sculptor and a Fellow and Trustee of the Royal Society of Sculptors. His works are collected in the UK, Europe and the US. He recently appeared in a Sky Arts documentary about Helaine Blumenfeld OBE while his works have been published in Nature Morte by Michael Petry and included in the European museum tour of the same. He is currently making new works in London and Pietrasanta, Italy.
Richard caught up with Jo during the Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Exhibition in which two of his bronze works are included and which Jo has curated. The exhibition continues until the 16 of September.
What has the experience of curating the Summer Exhibition been like for you?
It’s been totally different to anything I’ve ever done before! Usually, when curating a show, I can decide the works in advance, but as an open submission members show I had absolutely no say over the works I could choose from. Luckily for me, the standard of members work at the Royal Society of Sculptors is incredibly high. It was important to me that the exhibition showcased contemporary sculpture in different media, scale, pricing (everything is for sale) and colour. And, as a Summer Exhibition, I also wanted it to be fun and engaging to a variety of visitors.
You’ve been incredibly busy recently and involved in a diverse range of new projects from Elisabeth Frink at Abbot Hall to The Art of Collecting with the Jerwood and Fleming Collections, what have been your real highlights?
The first half of 2018 has been hectic for me. In addition to the ones you mention, other exhibitions currently open that I’ve worked on are ‘Show Women: Women Artists from the Ingram and Jerwood Collections’ at the Gibberd Gallery in Harlow, ‘Spirited: Women Artists from the Ingram Collection’ at Berwick Visual Arts, and ‘Young Contemporary Talent’ at The Lightbox, Woking. We’ve also lent works to a number of places – the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, the Royal West of England Academy, Bristol, Ditching Museum of Art + Craft, and a Bloomsbury show in Stockholm! I’m particularly proud of the geographical spread of the work we do at the Ingram Collection. It’s important to me that we are not London-centric.
You work with many public galleries and museums across the UK, but who are the people that work up front or behind the scenes that stand out and inspire you?
When working with galleries and museums, I always look for people who share my drive and ambition to make a project happen. I think Helen Watson at Abbot Hall Gallery is an excellent example of someone who is both a pleasure to work with and makes things happen! In addition to the Frink exhibition, we worked on a big show together last year: ‘Land, Sea Life’ which was the largest loan exhibition ever mounted at Abbot Hall. I also think that Caroline Worthington at the Royal Society of Sculptors is outstanding – working with her on the Summer Exhibition was an absolute treat, and the process ran exceptionally smoothly. Simon Martin, Director of Pallant House Gallery, is inspiring too. The work he does at Pallant makes it stand out on a national scale – it has always been one of my favourite galleries, but under his stewardship, it is an ever more rewarding place to visit.
You’re a true fan of modern British I know, what is it about that period that keeps your attention?
I’ve been working in the field of Modern British Art for nearly 20 years now. It keeps my attention because I’m still learning. As it was under-recognised for so long there are still artists to be discovered, and I also enjoy the fact that some of the artists are still alive, or their friends, family or students are – so I particularly enjoy the oral history, the personal anecdotes and memories.
You’ve often said that you’re particularly interested in work by women sculptors, what is it about their work that is important to you?
The sheer physical demands of making sculpture is interesting to me, particularly in relation to women sculptors. A contemporary woman sculptor whose work I’m especially drawn to is Cathie Pilkington. Her work jolts our attitudes towards women and domesticity, creating questions and a lingering sense of unease. I’m very much looking forward to her exhibition at Pallant House Gallery opening later this year.
Looking back at the last century, for you, who do you think the artists, male or female are that are timely for a reappraisal?
William Gear (1915-1997). Before he was called up to serve in the Second World War, Gear had been studying in 1930s Paris under Fernand Léger, an artist he described as a keystone in abstraction. He worked as a ‘Monuments Man’ after the war, saving cultural treasures from war-ravaged Europe. In 1947 he moved to Paris, where he joined the avant-garde group CoBrA. Gear doesn’t easily fit into any of the major schools within Modern British art – he left St Ives disappointed by what he deemed the ‘provincialism’ of British abstraction – and I think that is one of the reasons he has been missed out of critical analysis of the period. His large-scale abstract oil paintings of the 1950s and 1960s are confident expressions of colour and deserve reappraisal.
You’re a genuine advocate for supporting contemporary talent, what is it about this that motivates you?
I think we have a responsibility towards supporting young artists. At The Ingram Collection, I set up and launched a prize for artists who are just leaving art school – The Young Contemporary Talent Purchase Prize. It is an open submission entry system, and finalists see their work exhibited at a show in The Cello Factory, London. We offer them professional development, on-going support, and a solo show at the Art Fund prize-winning public museum and gallery, The Lightbox. Their work joins the Ingram Collection and is exhibited in our shows across the UK. The 2018 Purchase Prize is open for entries now. On a personal level, I enjoy working with artists directly, I find it invigorating and a reminder of why I work in the art world.
You’re also involved in ArtCan, a non-profit arts organisation that supports artists, how does this work?
I am incredibly proud to be a trustee. ArtCan supports artists through profile raising activities and exhibitions. It is an open network of peers and provides practical support structures. ArtCan promotes fair payment of artists and artists receives the entirety of the profit if their work sells at an ArtCan event. The art world is an eco-system, and we need to support every aspect of it in order to thrive.
If you could own one piece of work in the world what would it be?
Le Déjeuner Sur l’herbe by Eduard Manet. Either the Musée d’Orsay version or the smaller, earlier piece at The Courtauld – I’m not fussy! That painting is part of our visual vocabulary, so it’s easy to forget the controversy and anger it caused when first exhibited. For me, it heralds the start of modern art.
What projects have you got coming up?
The next big project of 2018 is going to be an exhibition at the Millennium Galleries Sheffield, opening this Autumn, as part of their ground-breaking ‘Going Public’ project. I’m also doing lots of talks and lectures – next up is a lecture on Elisabeth Frink at Abbot Hall Gallery on 13 September. Other talk highlights this Autumn will be my ‘In Conversation’ with Cathie Pilkington during her exhibition at Pallant House Gallery and my paper on Frink in a symposium on the artist at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich.
Finally, like most of us, you’re an avid Instagram user! While it’s clearly bought new opportunities (and challenges) for the art market, it has positively enabled artists to sell direct, without or in tandem with gallery representation. But what advice would you give to an artist starting out now?
Think carefully about what you want to achieve through your Instagram presence. What is your goal? Are you building blanket awareness amongst your peers, or trying to target specific people? It’s easy to give too much away online, especially when making and promoting new work. Something held back goes a long way – you still want to entice curators and buyers to your studio and new exhibitions. If they feel they’ve seen it all online, they might be less inclined to go.
The Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Exhibition continues until 16 September, Monday – Friday, 11am – 5pm, Saturday, Noon – 5pm. Dora House, 108 Old Brompton Road, South Kensington, London SW7 3RAF
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