Creating an exhibition is a labour of artistic love

Harewood's Exhibitions and Projects Producer Nicola Stephenson takes us Behind the Scenes on what it takes to stage exhibitions that visitors will enjoy seeing.

Wednesday, 25th May 2016, 11:40 pm

I sometimes wonder if people question how an exhibition appears on the walls and what was involved in getting it there. Is it enough just to enjoy (hopefully) what people see in front of them?

Here at Harewood, we have a series of exhibition spaces where we display works of art. From a dedicated contemporary gallery to the grounds themselves, there are wonderful places throughout which lend themselves to exhibitions.

Creating exhibitions requires a team effort. Working together, we look at the year as a whole to see what might trigger a particular response.

Is there a special anniversary or a national ‘year of’ that Harewood could respond to? Do we have items in our collection that could be part of the programme?

The House, the collection, and the landscape are incredibly rich sources of material; the right theme can provide the ideal opportunity to display a particular object or tell a story.

Artworks, furniture, documents and textiles are all considered. However, making connections between topics and the collection might not always be obvious. We need to create links between artists and genres to complete our exhibition programme.

Harewood’s link with contemporary art continuously influences our exhibition calendar. Each year, we host exhibitions in the Terrace Gallery, which was the first, dedicated contemporary gallery space in an English country house. Opened in 1989, artists including Antony Gormley and Sir Sidney Nolan have presented works here.

To create a contemporary response to our chosen topic, we begin by researching artists. Which artist’s work offers a connection with our chosen topic? What techniques are they using? Will our audience be challenged?

Once selected, we invite the chosen artist to Harewood so that they can get a feel for the place, meet the team, and begin exploring ideas. It’s a very exciting time. Connecting the chosen topic with the artist’s vision can take several months, and may involve many creative discussions.

Exhibitions using works created by deceased artists are often the most complex. Multiple requests to loan their work are needed, permissions from the artist’s estate, and condition reports on each object may be required.

How the final exhibition is presented forms a significant part of the curatorial process. As the exhibition layout is designed, we discuss the best way to coherently and attractively present the works so that they have the strongest impact. This can include how a work is framed or how an object is displayed.

While preparing the layout, we work with graphic designers to complete any interpretive requirements.

Sometimes these can be straightforward with simple panels and titles needed. In other cases, more design work is required to give an exhibition a clear identity.

This year marks the tercentenary of the birth of Lancelot “Capability” Brown. The Capability Brown Festival is the first-ever nationwide celebration of this eminent landscape designer.

Boasting 1,000 acres of “Capability” Brown designed landscape, Harewood represents one of his most important designs.

The grade 1 listed parkland has remained unchanged since it was created in the late 18th century. With soft, rolling hills and mature, established tree lines, visitors can experience the idyllic, picturesque views Capability Brown imagined for Harewood in the 1760s. It is this story which has inspired the 2016 exhibition programme.

Over a year of planning and programming completed. The results of the process are:

The Art of Landscape and North and South, to October, in the Watercolour Rooms - Using art from the Harewood collection, it shows the unchanged vistas of the Capability Brown design.

Look Touch and Listen, Gardens - visitors can explore Harewood’s landscape.

Shade into Shade, toJuly 24, Terrace Gallery - Imaginative photography by Finnish artist, Jorma Puranen provides a contemporary take on the landscape;

Great Capabilities Week, June 4-12, in the Landscape - join one of the expert talks in the landscape and explore unspoiled parkland;

A Grove of Delight, July 30-October 30, Terrace Gallery - Through words and images, the Scottish poet Thomas A Clark will transform the Terrace Gallery into a grove with light, shade and reflection.