[NOTE: This is a reflective piece which I wrote for my Museums and Galleries university module which is why it is so long and focuses a lot on the ERC as an institution as opposed to the actual artwork of Takahashi]
The Exhibition Research Centre (ERC) is a unique space within the world of museums and galleries. Situated in the John Lennon Art and Design Building of Liverpool John Moore’s University this gallery is pioneering a new way of using exhibition spaces as centres for research alongside the usual of presenting artwork to a community. I was fortunate enough to be invited to attend the exhibition opening for their latest display of “Hisachika Takahashi: Antwerp 1967/Brussels 2013/Liverpool 2013” which is a prime example of the sort of one of a kind exhibitions which are represented in the ERC. However, after having visited this exhibition a few times now and one previous before this it has come to my attention that the ERC is not being utilised correctly as an art gallery space.
The ERC is in fact the first of its kind within academic institutions, never before has there been a gallery space designed for the purpose of gathering research on exhibitions, something which the organisers of the space feel has been constantly overlooked in the past. However, I feel that the placement of the ERC within the actual art school building must surely affect the kind of research that they are to gathering by only allowing for a limited audience. Most of the time when I choose to visit the ERC it is with fellow classmates and there is rarely another person present in the gallery with us. Although the space is actually visible from outside on the street, due to the far wall being made up large windows, this does not seem to be enough to spark the interest of passers by. With mainly students as visitors, and art students at that, surely the research aspect of the space is not being utilised to its fullest potential. Even if someone from outside the university had decided to pay the ERC a visit I feel that they could struggle to find a way to enter the gallery as the entrance is not an obvious one. They would first have to enter the John Lennon building, whose door is on a side street off of the main road, and then would have to navigate their way through the art building. This raises further issues as some people may actually be intimidated by the thought of having to walk through a university building which they are not familiar with and which is often filled with busy students attempting to get to their next class.
It is disappointing to me that the ERC, which gains such interesting and often uncommon exhibits, may not be attracting the audiences that I feel it deserves. This is particularly true when it comes to the latest exhibition of Hisachika Takahashi’s work. Currently being displayed are a number of his intricately patterned canvases interlaced with glow in the dark layers which create a mesmerising effect as the soft glow brings out the patterns which are reminiscent of traditional Kimono textile designs. This has been described as a “time travelling exhibition” by the organisers because the canvases were originally displayed in 1967 in the Wide White Space gallery in Antwerp. Forty-five years later the artist Yuki Okumura, who curated this exhibit at the ERC, rediscovered the canvases and exhibited then in Belgium in 2012 and has now taken them to Britain. It is amazing that the ERC has successfully initiated such an exhibition, considering the fact that neither Takahashi nor Okumura have exhibited within the UK before. Gaining this exhibition has all benefited the art school in that Takahashi agreed to lead a workshop with the Fine Art MA students of LJMU and the artworks they produced following this were also exhibited in the ERC as collaborative works between the students and the artist. However, it must be said that this inclusion may have actually affected the integrity of the exhibit as one review described these works as having a “hotchpotch nature” and as something which “you’d find only if you stumbled into the artist’s studio”.
In my opinion the collaborative works were definitely not what let the exhibition down, instead the physical space in which the artworks were displayed was definitely the worst aspect of the entire thing. It is necessary at this point to state that the room which the ERC inhabits is most definitely not purpose built as an art gallery space. For this reason I cannot blame the curators of the exhibit or those who run the ERC for this mishap, instead I strongly believe that the university should be providing the ERC with a space more suitable to the kind of research which those who are running it want to undertake. I can see how the curators of the Hisachika Takahashi exhibition attempted to utilise the space as best they could but this was without success in my opinion. The ERC presents a curator with a typical White Cube space. It is a small room which is easily adaptable and this is beneficial in that the ERC hosts regular temporary exhibitions which often require fake walls to be placed, miniature rooms to be created or other instillations to be included. I personally have observed the flexible nature of the room as I went along to the previous exhibit of “Bob Cobbing’s ABC in Sound”. Compared to the current display the room had a very different layout which definitely affected the interpretation of the exhibition.
Yet, the fact that the ERC is in such a small space definitely has a negative impact on the exhibitions. In particular, while I was at the opening for the Hisachika Takahashi exhibit there were a lot of people trying to manoeuvre in a very tight space which resulted in my feeling quite claustrophobic. Perhaps in this way it is a good thing that the ERC does not attract large audiences regularly because the room size is not equipped to handle a lot of people. Also, as I have said before, the far wall of the room is made up of very large windows. This means that because the canvases are decorated with these glow in the dark patterns they could not be appreciated by anyone who was to visit the gallery space during the day time. Even though the exhibition leaflet says that these paintings “offer two very different aesthetic experiences, in natural or white light and ultraviolet light”, my first experience of the canvases was at the opening at night time and I was taken aback by the ethereal beauty of the effect. I can say that I have visited the exhibition during the day time and the canvases are simply just not as impressive when viewed in the daylight. I would have preferred, therefore, for the windows to be blacked out during the day or perhaps some form of shade to surround each of the canvases.
Before beginning my History of Art course I would probably have just accepted the placement of such an exhibition in an art school. However, three months in I find myself frustrated with the fact that such a wonderful collection of artworks, so rarely seen by the public, is being displayed in such a way. Between the room being far too small to allow for viewers to really enjoy the exhibits while at the openings, the fact that the ERC doesn’t seem to be able to get anyone in after the openings, and worst of all the daylight pouring in and ruining the aesthetic experience of some truly beautiful pieces of art; this just doesn’t seem like a suitable space for any exhibition. It is my belief that a space as innovative and forward thinking as the ERC is deserves better placement in a room which could prove much more convenient to the task the organisers are attempting to undergo. In my opinion as a student of art history, research and studies into exhibitions could prove to be invaluable to the field in the future and this needs to be realised by John Moore’s University and the art school. As well as that, the actual artworks which are being shown deserve better treatment and a room which truly allows for them to be displayed to their full potential and then actually observed by the public, not just a few students hoping to kill some time before their next lecture.