Friday 22 August 2008

The journey from conception to show – curating The Enchanted Garden.

Giusto Utens Medici Villa at Pratolino, 1599
Museo Firenze com'era, Florence

A common question that curators are asked is ‘How do you think up exhibitions?’ The question, inevitably, can’t be answered simply. Sometimes a show is curated to answer a particular need, to explore a particular artist’s history of working, or to honour a patron who has sponsored particular works, or perhaps to give an overview of a particular art historical period. When a curator is ferreting through storage, works are constantly being revealed that suggest a particular theme, or point to a need to explore a particular artist or period. And then there are the times when just for the pure joy of it, you decide you’re going to see just how many works you can put together on a theme because it has triggered a memory of a pleasurable incident. And that is precisely how The Enchanted Garden, which is going to show upstairs in the New Gallery from 13th December 2008 until the 15th March 2009 came about.

From late 1991 to July 1992, I lived in Florence, having received a scholarship from the Italian Government to carry out research for my Master’s Degree, which I was doing through the Italian Department at the University of Auckland.

Stefano Della Bella. The tree house at Pratolino c. 1652
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,
bequest of Dr Walter Auburn, 1982

I often visited public gardens in the weekend, partly to escape the stony environment of the city. Once spring arrived, more gardens opened, one of which was Pratolino. Like so many villas in the countryside around Florence, Pratolino had once belonged to the Medici family. The Museo di Firenze com’era (The Museum of Florence as it was) holds a remarkable set of lunettes painted by the topographical artist, Giusto Utens, who was commissioned to paint all the Medici villas, as they appeared at the end of the 16th century. These show the gardens and villas in their entirety from a bird’s eye view. Pratolino’s original formal gardens have all but disappeared, as a Capability Brown style of garden was introduced when they became all the rage in the eighteenth century. The only sculpture left is Giambologna's Giant of the Appenines Luckily however, they are also recorded in Stefano Della Bella’s set of etchings carried out fifty years or so after Utens, providing a close up, as it were, of the parterres, walks, grottoes and sculptures that used to be there .
Stefano Della Bella
Giambologna's Giant statue of the Appenines c. 1652 Pratolino
Mackelvie Trust Collection, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki,
bequest of Dr Walter Auburn, 1982

When I came to view these prints in storage at the Gallery in 1999, I immediately saw the possibility of curating a show on the theme of gardens. So why, you ask, has it taken that long? In fact it had been considered for our programme three years ago, but for a number of reasons had to be postponed until now, and during that time has moved from a space in the Main Gallery to the upper floor of the New Gallery. Over the next few weeks I will elaborate on the processes that go into putting together an exhibition, covering such topics at the selection of collection, sourcing loans; layout and design, research and writing, public programmes, and installation.

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