Installation: The Second Hand

With The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time opening this week we asked Coralie Malissard from our MA Curating the Art Museum course to tell us about how it’s been going….

Its hard, staring in front of this empty Word document to know where to start. How to express in a few words just how much of a roller coaster these last 10 days were for all of us? I personally haven’t had the time to ponder over these fast paced, jam-packed days spent basically living in the gallery space. I’m still jittering because of the amount of caffeine and sugar I’ve ingested to keep me going. My limbs are still tingling due to all the emotions I’ve been through. Although we had all been preparing The Second Hand: Reworked Art Over Time for the last six months – and had spent much time scrupulously planning this installation week – none of us could fully conceptualise just how much of a ‘journey’ installation would be.

It all started when a van rolled into Somerset House on Friday 5th with the temporary structure for our film booth. What was, customarily, an overly female environment was somewhat jolted by a team of contractors who were busy drilling, hammering and sanding away. The galleries were then revamped over the weekend by a team of expert decorators. What a reassuring feeling to see that the wall colour we had chosen from a colour chart had come out wonderfully! As part of the installation team, it was great to see this ballet of art handlers, conservators, technicians, electricians and decorators I had helped choreograph.

Gainsborough hanging

On Monday 8th we recorded podcasts to go up on the website. From Tuesday onwards, we experienced the sheer excitement of seeing the works in the flesh once they had carefully been removed from their protective crates and polyethylene wrappings. It was Christmas all over again! The works were then carefully condition checked with the help of a raking light, binocular headband magnifiers and the conservators’ expert knowledge.

Kate Edmondson explains condition reports and conservation

Looking back, I salute the team of art handlers who expertly got on with their job while 12 pair of eyes looked over their every move. We were like anxious mothers looking over their children… Talking of parental emotions, we were beaming with pride when our posters went up on the railings around Somerset House; when our project unfolds in the space harmoniously and when the vinyl for our introductory panel was successfully peeled onto the wall. For me, the cherry on the cake was seeing our exhibition come to life thanks to John Johnson’s expert lighting advice. Witnessing these finishing touches washed away the more stressful or tiresome moments, like when we went through each wall label and catalogue page with hawk-eyed scrutiny.

The Second Hand posters outside Somerset House

All in all, this was for me one of the most exciting and challenging projects I’ve worked on. There were some tense, stressful and teary moments, but the feeling of utter pure joy I got from working with incredible works of art made it all worth it. Even now, the works continue to unravel more meanings and surprises, more juxtapositions, correspondences and dialogues between themselves. And now, with the Private view just one day away, we can finally sit, back, relax and enjoy it.


The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time is the collective, culminating project of the MA Curating the Art Museum course at the Courtauld Institute of Art. This year, the 12 students were challenged to respond to The Courtauld Gallery’s summer showcase Unfinished… Works from the Courtauld Gallery

The Second Hand: Art Reworked Over Time is at The Courtauld Gallery 18 June – 19 July 2015

Final Stages and Opening: MA Curating Exhibition 2014

Kirsten Tambling and Bethany Wright , MA Curating The Museum Students

And we’re open! Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art opened its doors on Thursday for a special private view.

View of the galleries during the opening of the MA Curating Show, Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

Opening of Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art

It was exciting to see the exhibition space turn back into a public gallery at the Courtauld, because over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been spending most of our time there – hanging the works, lighting the works and putting up the interpretation panels.

One of our artworks, Nicky Hirst’s Wall 1, had to be specifically installed by the artist, using electrical cabling and a drill. So for three of those days we had the privilege of seeing Nicky at work bringing her piece to life, and drilling holes in the walls.

View of the Artist Nicky Hirst installing her artwork called Wall 1

Artist Nicky Hirst installing ‘Wall 1’

When we actually got in the space after months of planning and talking, we found that some of the works we’d chosen had a different sort of ‘presence’ from the one we imagined – perhaps they were slightly bigger, or more imposing, or seemed to have a different sort of emphasis.

So even though we’d planned our layout reasonably clearly in advance, we still spent a lot of time reordering things and trying new things out – which became part of the fun.

One of the works that became an anchor for us throughout these discussions was Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Its massive size and its power from a distance made it an ideal ‘vista picture’ – a work you see through the door of the previous room – and we knew we wanted it to be the first thing visitors saw.

View of the Final exhibition 'vista', Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

Final exhibition ‘vista’, Richard Long’s River Avon Mud Hand Spiral

We had been imagining the sightline from the entrance to our show for months, and seeing the interplay between the two Richard Long works, Mona Hatoum’s + and –, and Anna Barriball’s Sunrise/Sunset V was a poignant moment for us all.

When we had the works up and arranged, the next task was to light them. There are a lot of works of paper in our show, and these usually have to have a light level below 50 ‘lux’ – the standard measure of light for conservation – and so we had to make sure we kept measuring the light levels and reconfiguring them as necessary to keep them low.

View of a member of staff standing on a ladder to light the gallery space for the exhibition

Lighting the exhibition space.

A particularly challenging work to light was Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought, a circuit board covered in silver filigree.

We wanted the silver to shimmer gently as it hung on the wall, but we found with head-on lighting this was impossible. After experimenting with lots of different options, eventually we discovered that the best way to achieve the effect we were after was to light the viewer, rather than the work, so that they reflect the light back onto the work, and make it glow.

View of artwork 'Small Thought' by Cornelia Parker, in the hands of a student installing the show

Installing Cornelia Parker’s Small Thought

Impress responds to the Courtauld’s current Bruegel to Freud: Prints from the Courtauld Gallery.

This explores The Courtauld’s collection of prints, one of the biggest parts of their collection but also the least known. When we came to discuss our own exhibition, and how it would respond to The Courtauld’s show, we decided that we wanted to consider the act of ‘print making’ more generally.

Since all the best known printing techniques – etching, engraving, woodcut, and so on – involve the exertion of physical pressure onto a surface, we decided that we would take this idea of pressure as our cornerstone.

One of the works that was part of our discussions from the beginning was Richard Long’s photograph A Line Made By Walking. Here, the pressure of the artist’s body on the grass creates a ‘line’, like a footpath, in a field. It’s a ‘print’, but it doesn’t use ink, plate or paper.

The final exhibition includes ‘blind embossed’ prints, pencil rubbings, engravings created by the pressure of the sun and, of course, Richard Long’s handprints in River Avon Mud Hand Spiral. Another work, Richard Wentworth’s Nature, Mort reduces ‘print making’ to its essentials: it’s a metal bolster lying on a pillow.

The private view was an opportunity to show the final exhibition to everyone who has contributed to it, and helped us, over the last few months. It was a very proud moment for us all – and we would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who made it possible.

Impress: Print Making Expanded in Contemporary Art runs until 20 July 2014.