Review and Reflection: How to let an artist rifle through your archive

From 2009-2012 New Art Gallery, Walsall, brought together Archive Curator Neil Lebeter, and Artist-Curator Bob&Roberta Smith to curate the Beth Lipkin Archive (or what the author generally calls the Epstein Archive)

Having been reading Neil Lebeter’s book (which logs this curation), ‘How to let an artist rifle through your archive,’[1] I am more certain that the space in which you work is important. Not only for me as a, I guess, Management-Researcher?, but also for Curator-researchers and Artist-researchers. To be an Artist-in-residence is to be part of an institution. The social element of that is motivating in itself. By putting Neil and Bob&Roberta together New Art Gallery Walsall (NAGW) gave them the platform to motivate each other and they have had a joint experience in which they observed ideas together and presented ideas to each other and an audience through the blog on the NAGW website. HYPERLINK TO MY REFLECTION ON SPACES 

Connecting with the Archive material

Although Lebeter had never done any curating before and was, ‘still very apprehensive about (his) first curatorial job,’ he was instantly grasped by the Archive because Epstein’s lifespan was set in a time which he knew well and had studied. That small lynchpin allowed him to access the Art from a way that fitted into his personal context.

I was looking through a box of family photographs in the Epstein Archive…Epstein at a graduation ceremony…a man I recognised instantly – Sir David Maxwell Fyfe. I had written my postgraduate dissertation on Maxwell Fyfe’s role as a prosecutor in The Nuremburg Trials….the sight of Maxwell Fyfe eased my nerves considerably as this put Epstein and the archive into a clear historical context[2]

Connecting the visitors with the Archive material

Lebeter says, ‘the Epstein Archive is, in essence, the history of a family.’[3] I think this is why, although the Garman-Ryan Collection is quite haphazard (in that it is not a collection of paintings of one Artist or one style), this curation of the family identifies the times, emotions and tastes of the family. It adds a context which is quite relatable for a visitor.

Everyone can connect to some element within this Epstein Archive be that abstractly or personally;

–         Family

–         Happy family times

–         Simple things like asking for another pot of jam when you’re away from home. (This is demonstrated in the exhibition ‘Theodore Garman demands…’ [4])

–         Having a mother/father – distant or close (physically or psychologically)

–         Friendship

–         Love

–         Not being able to have children

–         Jealousy

–         Not being able to connect with one’s family (Theodore Garman was not allowed to talk about Jacob Epstein being his father publically because he was illegitimate and Epstein was married to someone else)

–         Trying to gain Perfection (as Theo wanted as an Artist)

–         Anger

–         Having secrets

–         Family fractures causing mental illness

The Archive is a great source of stories and reasons for making Art. I imagine that, by looking at someone else’s work and life, the artist and researcher were driven to reflect on their own work and life. Bob&Roberta (AKA Patrick Bryll) reflects briefly on his own life (in the book) specifically in how he balances his work and his children.

NL: (to B&RS) with a family yourself, can you sympathise with that obsession about making things all the time, your work, your latest project?

B&RS: that’s what really drew me to the project. Art is both a generous activity – you know, [laughs] giving these visions to the world…But the downside of it is personal and how you operate with your family, especially as a bloke. Although we are all meant to be New Men, actually the reality of it is in families is that the women do the lion’s share of childcare, even if the bloke is meant to be doing that. The thing is with Epstein, you can’t really imagine how he carried on with his kids because he was very distant….So, he was a bit of a rogue and that sort of horrifies me really.[5]

QUICK EPSTEIN HISTORY: Epstein married Margaret Epstein. He had a 20-year affair with Kathleen Garman. He had one kid with a model, one kid with another model, no kids with Margaret and 3 illegitimate children with Kathleen. He had a strange relationship with his son Theo (born 1924) who could never call him “father” in public (as he was illegitimate) and eventually Theo killed himself aged 27 (on 23/1/1954). He then married Kathleen Garman in 1955. 

Writing this blog post has made me wonder, why did I connect with this book? I saw the Archive exhibition at NAGW and I did connect with some of the work in the exhibition but, through reading about it, and discovering what the artist thought and developed from the Archive, I feel like I have understood more about the family and can put the Archive items, and the ideas that go with them, into context. I drew a mindmap of the family and I can finally understand who’s who and what’s what. It just took some time to let myself sit, have a Starbuck’s and think. Going back to NAGW at the weekend for Peregrine Watch 2014 for a secondary reading of the pieces will let me assimilate the information better I think. Although I understood the emotion of the wooden piece[6] when I saw it first – to me it said emotion and hardness and aggression. I thought it was misogynistic and I didn’t really “get it.” I wonder if my feelings will be different on a second viewing. It might open up more questions and more contextualised thoughts.

In this time of Postmodernism and Constructivism and there being no right answers, if I like to have context does that make my second answer more right than my first reflections on those pieces? I don’t know…

I always have to write down this word to remember what it involves theoretically.

Hein: ‘What is meant Constructivism? The term refers to the idea that learners construct knowledge for themselves —each learner individually (and socially) constructs meaning —as he or she learns. Constructing meaning is learning; there is no other kind.’ The consequences are that learning becomes learner-centric and it is suggested that there can be no knowledge outside the learner’s experience.[7]

What about context? What about the importance of a teacher scaffolding a kid’s learning (Thank you Mr. Vygotsky) through their prior experience and research? But that’s another topic for another essay. Yay, I’m writing it! Oh this link is just for revision fun on Vygotsky and Piaget

The Vygotskian Classroom: A Vygotskian classroom emphasizes creating one’s own concepts and making knowledge one’s property; this requires that school learning takes place in a meaningful context, alongside the learning that occurs in the real world. As seen earlier in the Piagetian classroom, this model also promotes the active participation and collaboration of distinctive learners.

The Vygotskian classroom stresses assisted discovery through teacher-student and student-student interaction. Some of the cognitive strategies that group members bring into the classroom are questioning, predicting, summarizing, and clarifying. In a Vygotskian classroom, dynamic support and considerate guidance are provided based on the learner’s needs, but no will or force is dictated. Students are exposed to discussions, research collaborations, electronic information resources, and project groups that work on problem analysis.[8]


[1] Lebeter, Neil, How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013)

[2] Lebeter, Neil, How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013) 8

[3] Lebeter, Neil; How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013) 8

[4] Lebeter, Neil; How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013) 8

[5] Lebeter, Neil; How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013) 22

[6] Lebeter, Neil; How to let an artist rifle through your archive, (Walsall, New Art Gallery Walsall,2013) 42

[7] Hein, George E. Constructivist learning theory: the museum and the needs of the people CECA (the international committee of museum educators) conference (Jerusalem, Israel, 15-22 October 1991)  [electronic version] (accessed 18/3/14)

[8] website, “Constructivism in Piaget and Vygotsky” (accessed 4/4/14)


Research Interviews – IDEAS

Having been to another tutorial session recently, I have been thinking about research interviews. As I haven’t been able to speak to Zoe (from NAGW) in person, it would make sense to email her some questions in the hope of a response which I could work with for my blogging. This seems like the perfect chance to practice a bit for my dissertation and consider what type of research interviews would be useful in order to collect data. To make this information useful to others I will write “The Subject” when referring to my research subject.

Visualizing Research - Gray and Malins
Visualizing Research – Gray and Malins


How do I get the interview?

–          STEP ONE – email/phone subject to ask, politely, if they will either attend an interview with me, or respond to an email with questions.

What form will the interview take?

–          FORM OF INTERVIEW: Send an email/call the subject requesting a meeting. I should research the company, I should know what questions to ask and I should know how to lead this interview before I email the subject so that, should they suggest I send questions (or they say they are free for a personal interview) that day or the next day, I will already be prepared. I will email the subject as I cannot meet them.

–          DIFFERENT FRAMEWORK OF INTERVIEW TIME: It could be formal/structured (Q&A), semi-structured (questions and a bit of a chat), informal (general chat to see what issues might be important, potentially in preparation for another interview).

–          PINPOINT FOCUS: Where did these answers lead me? Do some more research…

–          FOLLOW-UP: I may need to follow up the interview later with emailed questions to which the subject may reply.

What do I want to find out?

–          In this case, I want to find out the mission statement of Walsall Art Gallery and how the subject adheres to that.

–          What theoretical principles do they adhere to when the subject is doing their job.

–          I would like the conversation to lead into areas I potentially don’t know about and could research more. Potentially something niche/on-trend which would add an interesting angle to the essay for readers.

–          How does the subject choose certain ideas (for planning) over others?


The Reflective Practitioner - Donald A. Schon
The Reflective Practitioner – Donald A. Schon


1)      WHAT IS YOUR JOB ROLE? (as head of education-this may shed light on what subject is trying to do)

2)      WHAT IS YOUR 5 YEAR TRAJECTORY WITHIN NAGW? (Not sure if that’s a bit personal but I’ll try it. This could show where subject wants to take the department and how education is pertinent to the organisation)

3)      WHAT GOALS DO YOU NEED TO FULFILL AS PART OF WALSALL ART GALLERY? (might give an idea of theoretical concepts to research)




5)      DO YOU THINK HAVING A HISTORY IN ART HISTORY IS IMPORTANT FOR WORKING IN A GALLERY? (What does theory bring to practice? Mention the reflective practitioner?)

6)      POSTMODERNISM?  (something about the new kind of museum)

7)      WOULD YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF AS AN ARTIST-PRACTITIONER? (maybe ask where her theoretical context lies)

8)      AS A CONSTRUCTIVIST GALLERY … (perhaps ask if she thinks they are similar to any other galleries so I could research them too… Tate for e.g.)

9)      WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT THINGS YOU CONSIDER WHEN PLANNING AN EVENT (Potential to discuss community events where many issues can be considered at once – we discussed this interesting idea before Women’s Day can be related to different cultures for e.g.)



2)      DO YOU DO MUCH OUTREACH/DO CHILDREN TEND TO COME TO YOU? (This could be an interesting point of comparison with the other company I am investigating. It would also, hopefully, start a dialogue about education in the gallery space/schools)

3)      HOW DO YOU PUT THEORY INTO PRACTICE AS AN ARTIST-RESEARCHER? (Again looking at Carole Gray[1] and The Reflective Practitioner. I will write a blog post about the definition of an artist-researcher)

What approach will I take?

–          Email to begin with

–          I want to ask intelligent-seeming questions. I want to find out things that I couldn’t answer myself.

–          I don’t want to waste their/my time.

–          How will I evaluate whether I have received good info? Through my essay and asking follow-up questions


Which resources did I use to help me?

Learning Tab on NAGW Website

Schon’s The Reflective Practitioner[2]

Gray and Malins’ Visualizing Research[3]

Hein’s Constructivist Learning Theory[4]


[1] Gray, Carole and Malins, Julie, Visualizing research: A guide to the research process in Art and Design (UK, MPG Books Ltd. 2004) 58

[2]Schon, Donald A., The Reflective Practitioner: How professionals think in action (USA, Basic Books Inc., 1983)

[3] Gray, Carole and Malins, Julie, Visualizing research: A guide to the research process in Art and Design (UK, MPG Books Ltd. 2004) 58

[4] Hein, George E., Constructivist Learning Theory, CECA Conference: The Museum and The Needs of the People, (Jerusalem, Israel, 15-22 Oct 1991)