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Originally from the Lake District, Grant has worked as a curator in museums and galleries based in London, the East Midlands and Yorkshire since completing his post graduate studies in the mid 1990s.
Since 2011, Grant has been responsible for the management and programming of Huddersfield Art Gallery which is becoming recognised as a centre for contemporary painting in the UK. He has been a judge of the Contemporary British Painting Prize since its inception in 2017, judges the Flourish Award for printmaking and this year will join the judging panel for the New Light Prize Exhibition 2020/21.
We asked Grant a few questions …..
Huddersfield Art Gallery was host to the 2017/18 New Light Prize Exhibition. The gallery is not only a beautiful example of Art Deco architecture, it also hosts an incredible collection of British Art. What are your personal favourites?
That’s so difficult, my predecessors were visionaries and we have them to thank for such an amazing permanent collection in Kirklees. Its main strength is 20th century British art with many major figures represented including Henry Moore, L.S. Lowry and Stanley Spencer.
Francis Bacon’s ‘Figure Study II’ is a personal favourite, it’s an important surviving early work (from 1946) and was the first artwork by the artist to enter a public collection when it was acquired by Batley Art Gallery in 1952, however, if I could take one work home it would probably be a beautiful painting of nesting Rooks by Edward Bawden.
For the past 3 years, Huddersfield Gallery has hosted The Contemporary Painting Prize. Could you tell us about this experience?
It’s been fantastic; there is such a vibrant painting scene in Britain that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves. Contemporary British Painting is an artist led organisation and everyone involved is so passionate and enthusiastic about the medium. The prize just keeps growing in stature. We had over 700 applicants last year and each year we end up assigning a bigger gallery space for the prize exhibition.
What do you love most about your work?
I love working with a fantastic collection but I also enjoy working with living artists to mount exhibitions. I have had the opportunity to collaborate with so many incredible people and I’ve been lucky to meet several of my artistic (and some of my musical) heroes during my career.
What are its challenges?
The main challenge is capacity, the reductions in staffing and budgets has altered the way in which we operate – we have to be very opportunistic and innovative, seeking out new partnerships and collaborations. However, we still manage to deliver an ambitious programme of exhibitions despite the constraints.
Huddersfield Art Gallery is currently closed for refurbishment (reopening next year) and there is an ambitious Blueprint for Huddersfield town centre which will see the creation of a new museum and art gallery, it’s an exciting time to be working for the authority.
What do you think is the role of a contemporary curator?
Thinking about my own role, I feel that there is a responsibility to continue to develop and grow the collection – a collection should never be a static entity. There is also a responsibility to nurture and support early career/emerging artists – it’s amazing to discover that someone who once exhibited at Huddersfield Art Gallery is now exhibiting internationally or has been nominated for a major award.
What impact do arts prizes have on the sector, considering inspiration and industry?
I think that prizes are an incredibly important platform for helping artists to develop their practice, to gain exposure and confidence. It can also lead onto other opportunities, a number of exhibitions that we’ve hosted at Huddersfield Art Gallery have been by artists that I have first encountered through prize competitions.
I was thrilled when Huddersfield Art Gallery was chosen to display the 2018 New Light Prize exhibition. It was an amazing, expansive exhibition which really showcased the strength of Northern art.
What makes a winning piece of art?
That’s a difficult question, I’m always glad that when I’ve judged competitions in the past it has been as part of a panel and that the decision has always been a consensus. Personally I look for scale, this is independent of size – for example in the recent Contemporary British Painting Prize despite there being some massive canvases in the competition, the winning artist’s artworks that demonstrated the most flair, depth and ambition were the size of postcards.
What advice can you give to applicants?
Just embrace the opportunity – the New Light Prize is a fantastic competition that welcomes a broad range of artistic practices. The resulting exhibition was one of the most popular shows that Huddersfield Art Gallery has hosted and I look forward to judging this year’s entries.