Dialogues: The Walker Art Gallery and The Royal Standard

The Narrators @ the Walker

A new exhibition occupies gallery space at two very different Liverpool institutions, but to what end, asks Mike Pinnington…

The Walker Art Gallery and The Royal Standard, on the face of it at least, seem like worlds apart in terms of Liverpool’s visual arts landscape.

Though goodwill surrounds both, the Walker is enshrined in the city’s arts establishment, while TRS occupies the city’s hinterland, both metaphorically and literally; formally at least, one is rarely associated with the other.

Which makes The Narrators exhibition all the more fascinating. Works from the Arts Council Collection, curated by Lucy MacDonald, currently reside in each gallery. On the Walker’s website, it says: “They have been chosen and placed to create ‘visual dialogues’, exploring ideas around space and language in the museum.”

“The exhibition achieves something more intangible”

Of course, the exhibition achieves something else, something more intangible; it brings these two – ostensibly very different settings – that bit closer together. How did this seemingly unlikely relationship come about? Ann Bukantas, Head of Fine Art at the Walker, said:

“We’ve been talking to TRS for a couple of years about potential ways of working together. We’ve also wanted to get more modern sculpture into the Walker, so when the chance came along with the Arts Council Collection partnership we took this also as an opportunity to bring new curatorial ‘voices’ to the Walker; hence discussed working with Lucy and involving TRS. The project grew from there.”

The Narrators @ TRS

It’s not every day you have the Arts Council’s collection at your disposal. What was the process like, we asked MacDonald. “An important part of working with both collections was allowing enough time for research.

“I wanted to understand the identity and history of both [the Walker and ACE] collections, but also have time to make discoveries and consider how the art works would operate within the space and context of the museum. Around this time, I also approached the artist-led gallery The Royal Standard to begin discussions about how they would like to be involved in the partnership.”

“As the project developed, I began to think about how collections can be used as a resource”

For reasons already outlined, it’s not an immediately obvious relationship; we wondered what considerations were at play – and why –  in reconciling gaps between the two organisations. “The decision to hold the exhibition across two venues … was made to encourage a dialogue around how artist-led and collecting organisations can work together.

“As the project developed, I began to think more about how collections can be used as a contemporary resource to explore the intricacies of regional art ecologies and the unique history of industrialisation, social reform and philanthropy within the North West of England.

“In the process of developing the exhibition, these narratives began to subtly emerge through some of the works and the particular context in which they were shown,” said MacDonald.

Listening to MacDonald (and indeed, on viewing The Narrators), it is clear that working on the exhibition instigated some fairly major reflections and ideas in its curator, ideas that will result in a rewarding experience for perceptive visitors – the exhibition does make you work a little. But in the long term, what does MacDonald want the exhibition to achieve?

“This will be the first time that some of the selected Arts Council Collection works will be shown in Liverpool. It is also the first time that The Royal Standard has loaned works from a major public collection.

“Although the Walker Art Gallery and The Royal Standard operate as very different organisations, hopefully this project will encourage new audiences to visit both venues and be introduced to artists’ practice that they might not have come across before, or rediscover works in the Walker collection that have previously been in storage.

“The Royal Standard are also planning to host an art-writing residency as part of this partnership, accompanied by a programme of workshops, discussion groups and presentations. This will offer an opportunity for [artists] to develop new work.”

It’s an exciting development, one which, given time and room to grow, has clear benefits for each gallery, their respective audiences and, as MacDonald states, should lead to opportunities for artists – everyone wins.

And while Bukantas tells us “there is nothing else confirmed in the pipeline at the moment,” she also confirms that “we will carry on talking to [TRS]”. Now the lines of communication are open, who knows what can be achieved?

Mike Pinnington

The Narrators continues @ the Walker Art Gallery until 16th March 2014 and @ The Royal Standard until 17th November 2013

Main image Installation view at the Walker Art Gallery courtesy Stephen King

Elizabeth Price, Choir (Parts 1 & 2), 2011, HD video, 9 minutes 5 seconds. Courtesy of the artist, MOTInternational and the Arts Council Collection. Photo: Peter Martin

Posted on 08/11/2013 by thedoublenegative