Q&A with curator Noreen Grahame

‘A lively cultural scene, be it in an art museum or gallery, is dependant on the curator setting up an exhibition, which stimulates both artists and public. Basically the role is one made for those who look, look and look at work and who are open.’ 

How did you become interested in art and prints in particular?

Like most people I visited galleries and art museums and found I was fascinated by the print and wanted to find out more about how prints were made and who made them. I was living in Zurich in the 1970s, a time when prints were booming, and one could say I stumbled into the scene.

How do you view the role of curator?

A lively cultural scene, be it in an art museum or gallery, is dependant on the curator setting up an exhibition, which stimulates both artists and public. Basically the role is one made for those who look, look and look at work and who are open.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced while working as a print curator?

The artists’ books + multiples fair, although not strictly curated, posed many challenges from writing descriptions of artists’ books I had only discussed with the artists to finding that, in one case, the book submitted no longer resembled the catalogue description in any way. The artist decided at the last moment to alter it completely.

Can you tell us a bit about what a working day looks like for you?

It may be a little akin to giving birth. You forget all the pain of ‘that’ working day.

Who are your role models?

Pat Gilmour was the print curator at the Tate when I was in Europe. I had read about her and how she would be all over London visiting even the smallest gallery shows and artists’ studios. When I returned to Australia, I found she was the International Print Curator at the Australian National Gallery – now the National Gallery of Australia (NGA). I phoned her number at the NGA. She picked up and we had a long discussion about the prints of the German artist Friedrich Meckseper, whose work I was showing. She was, of course, completely au fait with his prints. Likewise Anne Kirker, former curator of prints at Queensland Art Gallery, Roger Butler (NGA), Anne Ryan (AGNSW) and Cathy Leahy (NGV) are always open. I hope I am like them.

Which exhibitions or projects are you most proud of?

Always the one I am working on, which is currently Big Impressions, prints from the collections of the Toowoomba Regional Art Gallery (TRAG) to celebrate the Print Council of Australia’s fiftieth anniversary.

Can you tell us more about this project?

Originally I spent quite some time making a first selection for Big Impressions from a list of TRAG’s print collections before driving to Toowoomba. With Tiffany Shafran and Eloise Tuppurainen-Mason I went through Solander box after Solander box and found a rich collection including PCA member prints from 1994 onwards. The challenge I faced was to reduce my third selection by fifteen prints and still do justice to the show. The decision was to show three prints – three big prints. Big Impressions reflects the enormous contribution the PCA has made to printmaking in Australia and to Australian culture over the last fifty years.

Michael Schlitz (artist) and Karen Knight (poet), Balancing, 2013, relief woodblock on Kozo paper, triptych, 66 x 264 cm, edition of 4. Courtesy Dick Bett Gallery.