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)


Looking back at my Research Proposal for focus

I briefly mentioned my research proposal so I thought it might be useful to show the ideas which I have been looking at from that. At the moment I am comparing Education programmes, the feel of both places and people in those places. I have created a table in a Word doc. but it’s still in its infancy. I wanted to figure out how to evaluate it first. Anyway here are some things I’m pondering and trying to pin down at the moment. I have the whole day tomorrow to think about it. I am reading about A Postmodern Puzzle: Rewriting the Place of the Visitor in Art Museum Education (by Melinda M. Mayer) for my Current Issues in Art and Design Education course and looking at how Walsall Art Gallery and Tate Britain’s programmes are similar so hopefully this will give me more of a more theoretical context in which to place why the way the Education programme is run is so important and the impact It will have on the future of The Arts.


Aims: what do you hope to achieve and why?

Potential title: Blogging a comparative study of Traditional Arts Team (TAT) vs. New Art Gallery Walsall (NAGW)

I want to discuss these ideas in the blog. (Some of the elements here may simply continue as I use the blog in the future. For example, the festivals will not come to fruition until June):

–          Arts Events Management

–          Community Arts

–          Arts Education in galleries

–          Event/journal reviews

–          Planning festivals


–          Educational outreach programmes: I will research how they market and manage events which encourage engagement and participation within the local community. The scope of what can be done sometimes relies on funding so it is possible that NAGW has more capabilities regarding what they purchase or what they do for school groups.

–          Social media: I will compare the use of social media at NAGW and TAT. Social media is a major tool for marketing to a younger audience, especially as Young Storyteller of the Year becomes more popular. I am learning to be a storyteller and attending an art class and this helps me to understand what we are marketing as well as showing me what the organisation is about.

–          The venue itself: NAGW white box art gallery vs. TAT which is accommodation cum workspace

–          Community arts: This is principally about engagement rather than success/finance and the most apparent question is about justifying the spending of money on the Arts.

I mentioned writing reviews to Graham at The Traditional Arts Team and he suggested I could review some of their work too. This will help if I have to write copy in the future.

The use of Space

–          Assessing the idea of how a Space is used is interesting to me. Working in an office environment in a venue seems to drive inspiration and focus (for employees), through constantly seeing the product which is being developed and sold.

–          I will look into the difficulties of moving into someone else’s space and trying to have an impact on their work whilst conforming to their infrastructure. I would also like to assess the idea of an organisation being event-centric and what this changes for the organisation. There is not, for example, one main event but a continuously rolling schedule.