Design & Decoration S03 ep6 : David Elliott, Elliott Curator, [Canberra]
Interview with David Elliott
David Elliott (1949-) is a British-born art gallery and museum curator. After studying history at the University of Durham, and History of Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art Elliott worked as an exhibitions officer at the Arts Council of Great Britain, after which he served as director of the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford from 1976 to 1996. Elliott's programme at Oxford included exhibitions of art from Latin America, Asia, South Africa, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Elliott was then Director of the Moderna Museet (Museum of Modern Art) in Stockholm from 1996 to 2001. From 1998 to 2004 he was President of CIMAM [the International Committee of ICOM for Museums of Modern and Contemporary Art]. In the 90's he curated a big exhibition 'Art and Power" exploring the relationship of Art with the totalitarian regimes in Europe in the first half of the 20th century. The exhibition was shown in various museums across the world. Between 2001 and 2006 Elliott was the director of Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, a large privately-endowed museum devoted to contemporary - particularly Asian - art, architecture and design. He was recently appointed Director of Istanbul Modern starting January 2007, a post which he resigned from on October 16th, 2007. Elliott is Artistic Director for the 17th Biennale of Sydney, 'THE BEAUTY OF DISTANCE: Songs of Survival in a Precarious Age'"
My training is as a cultural historian and I’ve worked as a museum director and a curator and when
you’re making a big exhibition on this scale you’re a bit like a film director really, you’re bringing
together the talents of so many different people and you’re making an event out of them, the big
difference is that if you’re a film director you have 1 ½ hours, 2 hours and people sit on their bum
in one place, whereas with an art show you’re asking people to go around and use their legs and
look at lots of different things so the audience is moving but you know there’s a kind of analogy
I’m not an artist, I show it, I try and understand it, I try and make sense of it, I reflect a lot on what
I think is good and not good and what I think is beautiful and not beautiful.
When I was 14 years old I always thought I would be a theatre director, I was very, very much
interested in theatre, as soon as I left school I went to work in a theatre and I realised pretty
quickly that wasn’t the life for me so I went to university and while I was at university I started to
make art exhibitions.
I don’t think being an art dealer is like being an artist I mean it, you have to be creative certainly
but I think your function is to get the work seen, to promote it, to make sure people know about the
work and also to sell it most importantly, because artists do need the income from their work to
keep them going so that’s really important, they do a very, very important job in that respect. No
artist is going to get a living from what I do directly, they get glory I hope, they get exposure and
they get seen my eye is disinterested, I’m not trying to sell anything, I’m just trying to put forward
a view of what I think is, makes a good show and is good art.
Well they asked me to come up with a proposal and I came up with this proposal and they said yes,
this is over two years ago now. I didn’t give a list of artists I wrote some ideas which I thought
actually reflected what was going on now in an interesting way that would make sense for Sydney
so here it is.
Well I mean of course it’s totally useless but a lot of things are useless, they don’t do anything. It’s
not a mechanism, it’s actually a channel of creativity and talent. It’s about representation on
different levels so artists represent what they see, what they think, what they feel and at very
complex levels that don’t necessarily match up with what you’re taught or the categories that come
from other kinds of knowledge and that is immensely valuable, particularly at a time of change.
In the show there’s really established, well known artists and then there are young people who’ve
hardly shown at all. I try and create a balance between ages and also levels of experience and
previous exposure but no, there’s no single way of doing it, you need to put it together in a way
that you know that feels right. It’s intuitive but it has to do with balance at certain levels and of
course talent and content.
There are works which really catch the eye which are very spectacular and others which aren’t and
they both have their role in this show. Look it as a kind of ecology which I’ve put together.
It’s never easy but I mean it’s what I do and I’m working with people who do the same thing and
know how to get these things done, it’s never easy but neither is it so impossible.
I’m doing a show on contemporary Japanese art in New York. It’ll open at the beginning of next
year and on Russia and eastern Europe in London and then I don’t know, we’ll see.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: David Elliott, Elliott Curator, Canberra