Arts Council Collection

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Caroline Douglas

Caroline Douglas
Interviewed by Robert Dingle, 2009

The McLaren Formula One sponsorship deal is emblematic of new and innovative ways in which the Arts Council Collection continues to acquire works, how did the initiative come about?
 
CD - The deal actually predated my arrival at the ACC, but it was brokered by Outset Contemporary Art Fund. I worked very closely with Candida Gertler of Outset throughout the project, and she was a great partner and hugely helpful in mediating between big business and ourselves.
 
In return for sponsoring the Arts Council Collection an exhibition was organised at McLaren's Technology Centre in Woking, how were works selected for that exhibition and how was the show received?
 
CD - Ron Dennis, at the time CEO of McLaren, very readily admits that he is not confident in his own knowledge of modern and contemporary art. We met on several occasions, and I visited the McLaren Technology Centre a number of times in the preparation of a proposal. What I eventually proposed, and what he accepted, was a display of sculpture that tracked the development of the medium in Britain from the early 20th century to the present. It was clear that sculpture was the only kind of work that would be suited to the spaces offered by the McLaren Technology Centre, and we put together a group of over thirty major works that began with a Jacob Esptein bust from 1916, and moved through 1960s Caro and Paolozzi, via Richard Long, Richard Deacon and Shirazeh Houshiary in the 80s, Siobhan Hapaska in the 90s and up to a recent work by Cornelia Parker.
 
The display was, in a sense, a very condensed history lesson, and designed to showcase some of the most distinguished artists in the Collection. In trying to find a point of connection between the Collection and our sponsor, it was the notion of innovation, of pushing the medium forward that seemed most relevant. Hence a fairly strictly chronological display that emphasised a notion of evolution and risk-taking.
 
I think the display was received well by the staff at McLaren. Ron Dennis was pleased that the works proved a big point of conversation for the staff, that it made for a very stimulating environment.
 
The sponsorship of the Collection enabled two major works to be purchased, David Noonan's 'Untitled', 2007, and Rebecca Warren's 'Regina', 2007, why were these works indentified in particular to be purchased for the Collection and what was your relationship with each of the artists?
 
CD - Perhaps the most important aspect of the way the sponsorship arrangement was set up was that it provided the Collection with complete independence in how it used the sponsorship money. As incoming Head of the Collection, I quickly realised that there was some residual nervousness, even resistance to the very idea of commercial involvements such as this. It was therefore incredibly important that the Collection could demonstrably act quite independently of McLaren in allocating the funds against particular purchases.
 
David Noonan and Rebecca Warren had been discussed as priorities for acquisition that year. The Collection already had an excellent Warren vitrine work, but it was felt it would be important to acquire a bronze figure in order to represent her practice more accurately. David Noonan was not represented in the Collection at all at that point, but was on the brink of a major solo exhibition at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris. After some correspondence with both artists' dealers, I did make studio visits to both of them. We discussed their work generally, and also looked at works available at the time. I took suggestions to the next meeting of the Acquisitions Committee and the decisions were made then to purchase. The McLaren money undoubtedly allowed us to consider more substantial acquisitions by both artists than we would otherwise have been able to consider.
 
What do you remember about encountering both of these works for the first time?
 
CD - Visiting Rebecca's studio, I remember she had a terrible cold - it was the winter - and had just dragged herself in to see me. We looked at various works in the studio, but at that time, there was one she particularly wanted us to have. It is quite a transitional work - moving away from previous depictions of the female figure towards something more abstracted. It has polychrome elements that are also an interesting development. We have shown the bronze just once so far since acquisition. I think it is an important piece, and it takes an interesting place within the sculpture collection, within a tradition of sculpture in this country.
 
I seem to remember spending a long time with David Noonan. His studio incredibly crowded with work, it was quite hard to move around. We looked at a few things lying flat on the floor - he makes works in multiple panels, so this is sometimes the only way to see them early on. The Gathering wasn't actually in the studio then. Maybe it was already crated and ready for the Paris show. I saw it in reproduction on David's Mac, and I think I just knew then and there it was the one, although of course the decision went to the Committee, as usual. I felt it was important to acquire something of substantial size, and this work seemed to sum up a lot of his practice, in terms of an examination of ritual, performance, overlaying of memories. There is a kind of mining of the past that is quite slippery in David's work: he does not like to unpack the imagery he uses, but leaves it to work on the imagination of the viewer.
 
So the first time I saw the work 'in the flesh', was when we hung it in the Festival Hall. In fact it was the first work that was hung there after the Hall reopened following refurbishment in 2007. I was thrilled with it. Still am. I think it's a great work.