Killer Curator: Katharine Stout exclusive interview
SERIES: We ask the best curators in the world what it takes to make it in the cutthroat contemporary art scene
And that's how Stout has paved her way through the curating world: championing thrilling new artists on the scene before they've made headlines and keeping audiences in the loop. She explains, 'I think it’s important for curators to be able to communicate contemporary art to a non-specialist audience, and I’ve always enjoyed doing this'.
After setting up the non-profit gallery Drawing Room, dedicated to promoting contemporary drawing, in 2001 with ex Senior Curator at the Contemporary Art Society Mary Doyle and curator/writer Kate Macfarlane, Stout went on to make waves at Tate Britain as Curator of Contemporary Art. Here, Stout put her name to a starry array of Tate exhibitions, from Eva Rothschild's spidery sculpture and Martin Creed's runners hurtling through the Duveen Galleries to the high-profile Turner Prize. But what's the downside of taming the Turner Prize beast?
'Whilst Turner Prize has had an extraordinary impact on raising awareness of contemporary art practice in this country, it is always very intense for the artists and curators working on it, not least because they only have around six months to prepare the exhibition, which can be quite a logistical challenge.'
And the media-hype? 'The other factor is the level of press interest – it still remains the case that much of the British press have a very sceptical approach towards contemporary art.'
As a curator, Stout has always had an interest in promoting fresh blood to the art scene. Working as Director of The Tannery, London, she helped to support young artists and took on the role of Contemporary art consultant at the National Maritime Museum to promote new commissions and projects. For Stout, the artist really does comes first.
'I always respect the artist to be the one who produces the art, and believe the curator is there to offer guidance, support and context for their work', she explains. The cardinal sin is a curator who believes, 'that they are more important than the artist'. Protecting the UK's public provision for the arts is also something Stout is fiercely protective of: 'we ned to nurture it at all costs!'
A Courtauld Institute of Art graduate (you can't move in the upper echelons of the art world without hitting one), Stout was drawn to curating as a way of combining her interests in both art and art history. Thanks to the encouragement of a beloved grandmother, an amazing art teacher and a special tour of the art historical mecca Florence from an Italian pal, Stout discovered her curiosity for curating.
Prem Sahib artist, BUMP, Club Night, Southard Reid, Soho, London, 10 August 2013
For Stout one of the best things about being a contemporary art curator is working with living artists: 'It is always exciting working with artists to develop new and often experimental work. The challenges are always different and hard to predict, which is what makes it interesting'. Right now that challenge is Prem Sahib's new show at ICA to coincide with Frieze London 2015, which Stout exclaims, 'is going to be fabulous!'
But there are plenty of new kids on the block to watch out for in London right now. Quickly Stout rattles off a handful of names, 'Eloise Hawser (currently on display at the ICA London), Yuri Pattison, Cecile B Evans, Michael Armitage, Celia Hempton, Hannah Perry, Beatrice Gibson, Mary Ramsden, Katrina Palmer, Charlotte Prodger, Eddie Peake, and many, many more!'
2014 Performance at Frieze New York © Eddie Peake
A Londoner born and bred, it's clear that Stout has a unique connection to the big smoke. But what's so special about the London art scene? 'I sometimes think that Londoners take for granted how many amazing gems there are in plain sight rather than hidden away', Stout explains. 'There is so much to engage with, which can be overwhelming, but you just have to find your own place!'
But as the contemporary art scene in London fizzes and expands, it feels like a monster growing out of control. Stout worries that the capital is in danger of squeezing out the artists and practitioners at grass roots level. 'It's dangerous, because the arts has a very fragile ecology and if this crucial layer of activity is eroded, the whole thing will come crashing down.'
So how can a young curator find their place these days? Stout's top tips are: 'know your subject, work hard, see as much art as you can at all times (not just on screen), talk to artists and other curators, believe in what you do'.
Prem Sahib will be at the ICA London from 24th September to 15th Nov 2015