What to know about curating an art exhibition for the first time
The idea of displaying my paintings in an exhibition had, one way or another, been around for a while. Primarily suggested by others and followed by myself responding with a joke or even a smug remark, brushing it off. However, this time it was different. When a friend pulled me aside and said: “Why don’t you put up a show of your own? For friends only, a one night show. I think you should,” I had no response. Maybe I should?
A couple months earlier, sat in a dark bar in Amsterdam, I’d expressed — to my own surprise and in a rush of too many words — a wish to do something with all this work I’ve put into painting. I could no longer hide the desire to have a show of my own, not even to myself. I hardly knew where this came from, or why, or what I really wanted with it, but there was no escape that the idea was all too tempting.
When curating your own show, even if it is just for friends and just one night, the way you see your work changes. In a way, it stops being yours, you can no longer downplay it or disregard it. You’re forced to engage with it as an audience member yourself. That distance may improve the quality of your work overall, but it also creates questions. Why do you want to put up a show? What do you want with it? Is there a theme? Is there a reason? Do you need a reason? In a ‘what does it all mean’-existential chaos, you have to make decisions of what’s worth including and what is not; why show it at all; do you think you’re good enough? For me, the decision to go through with it came from the realisation that I was scared. Absolutely terrified. It wasn’t just shyness, but also an idea in the back of my head that creating an exhibition for yourself is somehow egocentric. A few distressed phone calls later debating the potential self-indulgence of it and coming to a neither yes or a no, in the spirit of self-challenge I decided to just do it.
The location and curation
So I spoke to the owner of a little wine bar down the road from my house who was happy to lend me the space after hours on a Sunday. Still not being quite sure of my reason to actualise such a project, I started working. Choosing paintings, making new ones, trying to find a common thread in my all-too-diverse portfolio. To my surprise I found a consistency of style: colours playing in a rhythm as if dancing out the joy of life. Taking on the role of the curator, the paintings I had worked on ceased to be my paintings, and became works as any other, works that could tell a story, a feeling, with a life of their own. At the same time, I took on (yet another) part time job to fund the wine and food for the night of the event. I was tired of all the beers running out at exhibition openings and dedicated to have enough supplies for everyone.
The last-minute doubts
The week of the exhibition came. Sending out invites, I felt worse than ever. Why am I doing this? I think the most difficult part of putting up something of your own is this very question, and unless you have a clear answer in your mind — be it to make a living off art, or because you feel obliged to share your skills, or even because that is what you are used to doing coming out of art school or an environment where everyone else does so — it will keep bothering you. For me, there was no clear answer. I hadn’t been to art school, had never been in an environment where that was normal, and had no inclination whatsoever to make a living off my work. Moreover, from the commissions I’d done, I knew that selling paintings or doing commissions was most definitely not my cup of tea. The answer only became clear on the night, when the show was in full swing.
The final night
As if through magic, everything came together. With the help of multiple pairs of hands hanging the paintings up inone way or another, the very self-made aspect of the curation made every positioning personal. ‘Each time I walk around, I find another painting I’ve missed hidden somewhere,’ someone said. The wine, provided by The Stillroom, was exceptional, and so was the range of delicious snacks (and yes, there was enough for everyone). Soft music filled the room, chosen by yet more hands of support. That one question of why — why put up a show of your own — answered itself. Because of the exchange it creates. It wasn’t about the paintings or about the colours. The artworks on the walls were necessary to create that intimate atmosphere, that quiet joy of people coming together. By showcasing something so blatantly personal, everyone relaxed, their mood brightening. Taking away the strict coldness of exhibition spaces, it became clear to me how that joy of life I strive to paint on my canvas can be created in a real space. This is why put on a show of your own — this is why I did and this is why you should. Because in sharing your own creativity and passion and showcasing it in a way that is personal to you, you’re spreading the love. So please do put on a show of your own, with whichever skills you have. In the end, I think, why not?
You can find my artworks on my Instagram and at Queen’s Coffee Bar (2b King’s Grove, SE15) during Nunhead Art Trail 28-29 September 2019. Stay tuned for my next show (winter edition) just before the New Year.