BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE ART GALLERY
Glenn Iseger-Pilkington, Associate Curator of Indigenous Objects and Photography talks with Carola Akindele-Obe about his experience working on the planning and presentation of bringing works from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to Perth for the Van Gogh, Dali and Beyond: The World Reimagined at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.
Delivering six exhibitions with MoMA has had the Gallery in a spin. The staff and the curators are under pressure to deliver on multiple levels. So I am surprised when Glenn Iseger-Pilkington answers the phone on a Friday afternoon with a bounce in his voice and a chuckle. From the conversation that follows it is evident that he thrives on the diversity and the continuous learning that his role affords him.
He’s cognisant that his gregarious nature and interest in people from all walks of life has set him up well for the code switching required of an Indigenous art curator. Equally at ease conversing with Indigenous artists at a remote community as he is with a museum director in New York, Glenn professes that he loves to hear and talk about art.
Glenn started out as a photographer and new media artist. Studying for a BA in Fine Art from Edith Cowan University to pay the bills, he took on coordinating the Regional and Indigenous Artist Development Program for Artsource.
‘In working with Indigenous artists and other curators I became interested in how art collections are developed and the important role institutions play in capturing cultural memory.’
From an Indigenous background on his father’s side, and a European background on his mother’s, it was inevitable that Glenn would be drawn to preserving the cultural legacy of first Australians.
‘I didn’t really plan to become a curator but my decision to work at AGWA six years ago turned out to be a good one. If I was ever to move out of my specialty in Indigenous art I’m almost certain I would continue to work with new media, photography and installation art.’
As an AGWA curator Glenn looks after the Gallery’s collection of Indigenous works on paper, new media, sculpture, ceremonial artefacts and some bark paintings. He explains that it’s not easy to compartmentalise a curator’s role by art medium, particularly with Indigenous art, because it’s more about what is being communicated, for example a ‘narrative’ painted on bark, may also be applied to a carved object. .
Starting with a very large coffee, his regular day at the Gallery includes researching the collection, piecing together information about individual works, such as attributing works to people, times and places, as well as finding ways to communicate the works in the collection in practical and meaningful ways.
‘We inhabit the exhibition spaces – looking at placement of works, lighting, design elements etc. Writing is also important – for catalogue essays and journals – and it’s something that I have enjoyed developing with the help of mentors and good editors. I think writing absorbs some of my latent creative energy.’
In October 2012 Glenn travelled to New York where he worked on a scale model of the planned exhibition, at MoMA.
‘The experience of working on Van Gogh, Dalí and Beyond: The World Reimagined has rekindled my interest in modernism and contemporary art and undoubtedly broadened my career path. With co-curators Gary Dufour and Samantha Friedman, Assistant Curator, Department of Drawings, The Museum of Modern Art, we have collaborated over the selection of works, the design of the space, audio tours and of course the installation itself.’
When asked what Friends and visitors will find most exciting about the show, Glenn chooses the power of proximity,
‘I hadn’t really considered ‘modern art’ since I studied it at art school, so to see these incredibly iconic artworks in real life, instead of a small representation on a page or on the web, is really quite exhilarating. To think that the hands of such influential artists’ were right there painting on these surfaces!’
Visitors will take away much more than this. As well as the versatile craftsmanship of the great artists, Van Gogh, Dalí and Beyond encourages contemplation on how we respond to change. The exhibition covers landscape, still life and portraiture from 1889 – 2011, created in times of great change, world wars and social development.
‘It’s easy to forget the date of the older works because they sit so comfortably with the works of recent times in their style and how they challenge the status quo. However we have to recall that artists in the early 1900s were hugely restricted, sometimes persecuted and not celebrated. Contemporary artists today have so much freedom and can enjoy success during their lifetimes.’
In November, we are invited to hear Glenn talk about Salvador Dalí before the screening of the film Dali Dimension – Decoding the Mind of a Genius.
‘Dalí is totally unique; many artists have tried to emulate his work without success. In a small space he is able to present multiple realities, often polarities, such as depictions of loss and euphoria. Because of this his work elicits different responses from different viewers – and so, the viewer in many ways creates, or resolves the work in their own minds.’
I think we can all tell by Dalí’s subject matter that he must have been a complex thinker and possibly deeply troubled. He lived in a time when artists were beginning to take on celebrity status. This was not an easy transition, especially as many artists had previously been able to hide behind their creations.’
Glenn encourages Friends and visitors to look closely at Dalí’s work to appreciate the skill and control in the details; often so fine that ‘he must have used a magnifying glass, for instance look at the cascading bicycles in Illumined Pleasures 1929.’
Salvador Dalí – a Film and Lecture, with Glenn Iseger-Pilkington
Mon 11 Nov, 6 – 8.30pm ($40/$50)
Dalí Dimension – Decoding The Mind Of A Genius (2008, 75 minutes) delves into the psyche of the Surrealist artist. Through a series of rare film clips and interviews with the artist, it explores the many inspirations that resulted in Dalí’s masterpieces. An evening that will expand your mind!
Bookings required: CLICK HERE.
Van Gogh, Dalí and Beyond: The World Reimagined is organised by The Museum of Modern Art, New York in collaboration with The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth.
Visit www.momaseries.com.au for more info.
This article was published in the August 2013 edition of Artifacts, the magazine of the Friends of the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Carola Akindele-Obe is an editor and writer at The Write Business.