Curator in Residence
Curatorial Leadership Residency 2012, Design Museum, London
Visual diary by Michelle Joan Wilkinson, PhD
“I am a curator at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore, Maryland, USA and I spent a week in residence at the Design Museum “shadowing” the museum’s Director, Deyan Sudjic. My residency was coordinated through the Center for Curatorial Leadership (CCL), a programme which works with museum curators in developing management and leadership skills that will make them competitive candidates for museum director posts. As a 2012 CCL Fellow, I selected the Design Museum because I was impressed by the Designers in Residence program and I wanted the opportunity to learn from one of the world’s leading voices in architecture and design. I had read The Language of Things, Deyan Sudjic’s book on “desirable objects,” and found it very accessible. My week with Deyan was like a whirlwind through the design world, museum matters, and provocative conversations I hope to continue.
Day 1, Monday 21 May: Hopped on the 78 Bus from Shoreditch, crossing over Tower Bridge, and arrived just blocks from the Design Museum. A whole “behind-the-scenes” world awaited: rows of desks, ringing phones, computers, books, and teams of staff abuzz with design matters. The small library table is where a lot of the action happens, from my first one-on-one with the Director, Deyan Sudjic, to the Monday morning department staff meeting which followed.
On my first look around the galleries, the concept and design of the Christian Louboutin exhibition was impressive, centered around themes of travel and architecture as well as his studio practice.
On the second floor was the Designs of the Year exhibition. The highlight for me was seeing this year’s winning design by Barber Osgerby for the London 2012 Olympic Torch. How cool!
Day 2, Tuesday 22 May: After an offsite Capital Campaign meeting, I made my way back to ‘home base’ walking along the Thames River. In the afternoon, I sat in on a presentation by students currently part of the museum’s Curating Contemporary Design MA (with Kingston University). The programme offers students the opportunity to curate live projects and build their own professional profiles.
My evening was capped off at the Condé Nast Traveller’s Innovation and Design Awards which I attended with Deyan and Sarah Miller. Architect David Adjaye and shoe designer Christian Louboutin, among others, came away winners.
Day 3, Wednesday 23 May: Toured the Design Museum Collection storage area with the Head of Curatorial, Donna Loveday. So much good stuff in there that wants to come out and play! At lunchtime, I tagged along with Deyan to meet curator Daniel Charny in the Borough Market area near to the museum. We talked about exhibitions, architecture, and the challenges of new museum projects. Memorable menu items: squid ink black rice and Spanish white wine sherry. Yum!
Day 4, Thursday 24 May: After lunch, staff members huddled around the library table to discuss operations for the Diamond Jubilee events at the museum. It was like a cozy test run for the anticipated crowd control issues. After the meeting, I presented my current research on architecture in the Caribbean. Deyan suggested some books for my reading list, including his book; The Edifice Complex. (In addition to having a clever title, it’s a good read.)
Day 5, Friday 25 May: Started the day at the Victoria & Albert Museum for a Press Preview about the London Design Festival which opens in September. Had a stroll through the new exhibition British Design, delighted to come across Frank Bowling’s iconic paining, Mirror. Wrapped up the afternoon chatting with the Design Museum’s Communications team (Josephine Chanter - Head of Communications and Ashley Woodfield - Senior Press Manager) and scooped some good ideas I plan to “borrow.” Had my final one-to-one with Deyan at the now-legendary library table, back where it all began.
Day 6, Monday 28 May (Bonus Day): On my extra day at the museum I attended an evening reception for the new crop of Designers in Residence. I was lucky to meet one my favourites from last year, product designer Jade Folawiyo. Her design aesthetic reminds me of works from Material Girls, an exhibition I previously curated for my home institution, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore.
Also earlier in the day, I had the pleasure of a guided tour of the former Commonwealth Institute building in Kensington, west London. It’s an architectural gem, set to become the home of the new Design Museum in 2014. What a bonus! My reason to come back to the Design Museum for sure!
Thanks to everyone at the Design Museum and the Center for Curatorial Leadership for making this residency possible.”
Further Reading and links:
Michelle Wilkinson - facebook.com/michelleinthemix