University of Cambridge Museums

Projects, events and news from the University of Cambridge Museums

Art & Science of Curation: Curating and Kettle’s Yard

The Art & Science of Curation is a project which explores ideas around Curation and the role of the curator. Over the coming year, we will be inviting people from both within and outside our museums to share their thoughts on curation.  We want to build a body of writings which articulate and explore the many different ways in which a curator can curate, and each week we’ll be posting a new piece of writing here on our blog.  If you feel you’ve something interesting to say, do please get in touch about contributing. Find out more about the Art & Science of Curation on our website.

Curating and Kettle’s Yard
Andrew Nairne, Director, Kettle’s Yard

Andrew NairneKettle’s Yard is sometimes described as a masterclass in curating. What might that mean? Jim Ede didn’t simply want to display his art collection in a house, he wanted to express a view about our relationship to art, domestic space and the natural world. So he set about choreographing with great precision and care every painting, rug, chair and pebble; how they appear side by side, how a visitor might encounter each room and viewpoint, and the shifting play of light depending on the time of day. For Ede, curating was a way of fusing art and life. It offered the possibility of creating a certain ‘balance’ in a century dominated by world wars.

Many of our visitors appreciate this quality. Unlike a traditional museum display there are no labels and you are encouraged to sit in the many chairs and spend time looking about, noticing the visual affinities between three shells, or considering the often pioneering ambition of many of the art works.

Tate Director Sir Nicholas Serota was a student at Cambridge in the 1960’s:

‘I found my way to Kettle’s Yard…For the first time I began to appreciate that works of art were not only objects of beauty and contemplation, but also had a physical presence which could charge the space around them…I was hooked and decided the visual arts should be my field.‘

When Kettle’s Yard opened in 1957, the attention Jim Ede had clearly given to arranging pebbles and shells, of no monetary value in themselves, beside valuable works by remarkable artists was a radical approach. It suggested that everyone is inherently creative; that we should pay equal attention to art and the natural world and, ideally, surround ourselves with both. And it has been enormously influential. From Cambridge to Tokyo you will find homes inspired by Kettle’s Yard. Furthermore, Ede did not think he alone could or should curate, he wanted everyone to be a curator. By this he meant that we could all learn, or release, the visual awareness required to create harmony through arranging art and objects in such a way as to encourage observation and thought.

Now there are numerous university curating courses offering specialist and practical skills. But the message of Kettle’s Yard is that being a curator does not require certificates. What is required is curiosity about art and creativity. Jim Ede made Kettle’s Yard so that more people would appreciate how art and objects can affect not only our understanding of life but how we choose to act in the world.

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