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First Look: ‘The Decorator and the Thief (…)’ at the NGCA

23 January 2015

What are our expectations of art versus craft: can art be functional, or design whimsical? And what about the objects and artists that find themselves somewhere between the two categories? A new exhibition at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA) explores an old topic in new and unusual ways. We asked the curator, George Vasey, to tell us more.

(HD video still; 2014), Yelena Popova

Window (HD video still; 2014), Yelena Popova

Can you tell us a bit about the exhibition?

‘The Decorator and The Thief (…)’ is a group exhibition exploring the intersection between art and craft. We’re exhibiting loaned work from the Arts Council Collection alongside new commissions by artists such as Yelena Popova, Jackson Sprague, Fay Nicolson and Kate Liston.

What makes this a distinctive show?

I’ve tried to stay away from what most people would expect from a show about craft. Alongside pottery and wallpaper, I’ve included film, writing, sculpture and painting. I’ve been thinking a lot more about gender, labour, visibility and value.

How did you come to curate this exhibition?

I was tasked with curating a show around art and craft when I started here and I started to think about hierarchies; why do we value one art form over another? The title came early and does a good job of summing up the show.

What has been the most exciting personal discovery for you?

Working with the Arts Council Collection. I’ve never worked with a collection before, and it’s the largest public loaning collection in the country. It is incredibly varied and rich and I’ve come across artists I’d not heard about before.

What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in preparing this exhibition?

Timescale and budget. You can always do with more of both! They are often the biggest challenges an institution faces. A show is always the product of limitations that force you to be more creative.

How are you using the gallery space?

CommonRoom are accenting the gallery with artist-designed wallpaper. I’ve also commissioned someone to write a piece of fiction in response to the show. Ultimately I want to dissolve some of the distinctions between different forms of production and mediation.

What challenges will the installation pose?

Not many hopefully. The exhibition will be hosted at the NGCA, and I’m co-curating an exhibition at the Priestman gallery at Sunderland University alongside Sebastian Trend from the National Glass Centre, which will expand on the show at the NGCA.

Which other works would you have liked to have included?

There were a few, but they were too expensive either to transport or install. For every show that gets made, there is another one that remains imagined.

‘The Decorator and the Thief (…)’ is at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art (NGCA), Sunderland, from 30 January–16 May.

Related Articles

Review: Yelena Popova ‘Drying Time’ at Paradise Row (Emily Burns)

Review: ‘Basic Design: A Revolution in Art Education’ at the Hatton Gallery (George Vasey)

Art close to art: the status of the decorative arts today (Lisa Zeiger)

Shifting Boundaries: Applied Arts and the Jerwood Charitable Foundation (Shonagh Manson)

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