Part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s programme of opening up public and private collections for everyone, it is currently in the middle of a series of four different displays drawing on the collections of Contemporary Art Society member museums across England. Founded in 1910, the Contemporary Art Society supports public museums and galleries across the UK, through acquisitions, gifts, advocacy and advice. Each display focuses on a different part of England and has a different curatorial premise.
The publication brings together in-depth essays by the four curatorial fellows who each curated a display, in combination with images of the diverse ranges of objects selected for the presentations. Like previous Whitechapel collaborations with existing collections, the exhibitions offer a refreshing insight in the wealth and diversity of art and artefacts many regional collections harbour, presented in the context of new, temporary curatorial narratives.
From a purely selfish perspective it’s been wonderful to engage with the four – entirely different – curatorial premises and the curators’ framing: excellent case studies for teaching. It’s also been interesting to see the different writing styles about the very layered and sometimes complex backgrounds to the presentations. Although the space in which the Whitechapel hosts these collection presentations is modest, the care with which the exhibitions have been put together, and the narratives constructed, shines through in each essay. The four curatorial texts – by Anna Collin, Helen Kaplinsky, Ingrid Swenson and Gaia Tedone – are rich in detail about regional histories and quirky comparisons. They come accompanied by a brief history of the Contemporary Art Society by Helen Rees Leahy, reflecting on private versus public funding – something that has always been part and parcel of the museum and collections landscape – and a text by artist Matthew Darbyshire about his ongoing interventions in and comments on (museum) collections. The book is designed by SMITH.