We make Art not Work


Last week in Edinburgh, we went to meet Paul Nesbitt at Inverleith House in The Botanic Gardens. I wanted him to talk about his experience of exhibition making. He has been the Exhibition organiser at the gallery for 23 years. His background is in botanical studies but he has also made his own art, in photographs, but never took it much further as what he does as an exhibition organizer is his art and he is good at it. His job at the Botanics came about by him answering an advert in a botanical magazine, not art magazine. His botanical background and his art interests made a good impression and he was given the job.

He said some interesting things in connection with what he did. I was keen to make him part of my research as I knew he has a tacit experience of exhibition making. He does not see himself as a “curator”; he assists the artists to make the projects and exhibitions for the gallery. His job is 98% organising (fundraising, lending work, negotiating the works, preparing the gallery, marketing and designing and writing interpretation and publications) and 2% curating (idea of project in relation to space, context, location).

He has built up a track record, working on his own in producing the exhibitions, doing it all. Although he was not completely alone, collaboration is an important factor – with other connected artists and writers and organisers, gallery dealers give him the support and open doors. He very much believes in being in the right place at the right time, serendipity playing its part. Opportunities come along and he is there to create his projects and plans. He talked about going to an opening of Louise Bourgeois’ in London, and commenting on the amazing photograph of the artist on the preview card. He spoke to another person at the opening and expressed this and he agreed, then he found out that his new friend was in fact the artist’s assistant Jerry, and he was able to connect and develop a relationship with the artist and her assistants. However, it seems important to make your own decision and express your opinions for others to connect with. This shows his love of what he does, he felt it was important to love art and what it was, could be, how it was made and by whom. Paul expressed that you should only work with people that you get on with. His hard earned track record has enabled him to create a flow or routine of outputs.

The formula appears to involve negotiating major international artists who see the space as a special venue and experience, a place to see their art in a new light; giving a young artist the experience and opportunity of making a special exhibition of art in gallery spaces and the Botanical context; exhibiting historical and beautiful botanical related illustrations and art. The projects and exhibitions sometimes overlap but its not usually planned and the connections between the art and artists are consequential. The actual space itself is unique and immaculate.

The students expressed that it would difficult not to put on an amazing show. The house still has domestic motifs and atmosphere, the art and gardens (through the windows) can be seen together, so its not just a ubiquitous white space, it has a unique identity. Paul also insisted that the artists practice and work was their art and should be referred to as such. It is not work or practice, its art.

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