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Irene Brown and Judith King – The Gallery of Wonder on Tour

Irene Brown and Judith King – The Gallery of Wonder on Tour

A touring exhibition which explored whether ‘wonder’ in contemporary art practice can be used as a strategy for engaging audiences who do not typically visit art exhibitions

The Gallery of Wonder on Tour was an art exhibition, housed in a specially designed structure that toured four agricultural shows, a seaside fair and a miners’ gala in Northumberland in 2015. None of the venues had previously engaged with contemporary art. The project was researched and curated by Irene Brown and Judith King in association with art agency Arts&Heritage. Brown contributed the original artwork Oculus Mundi. The project commissioned new artworks from artists Aideen Barry, Mat Collishaw, Tessa Farmer, Polly Morgan, and the Quay Brothers. In addition, two loans were made from artists Mark Fairnington and Aura Satz.

marquee in field. Man talks to a family

With its distinctive settings being a key feature, the project explored the relationship between heritage, the making, curating and exhibiting of contemporary art, and the notion of ‘wonder’. Tracing historic links between Wunderkammern and traveling curiosity shows, the project explored the heritage of the sideshow within rural fairs. Drawing upon critique of New Genre Public Art (Lacey, 1994), it examined these settings as a locus for ‘wonder’, and their relevance as a venue for a contemporary art exhibition

It explored whether ‘wonder’ in contemporary art practice can be used as a strategy for engaging audiences who do not typically visit art exhibitions via the stimulus of surprise and fascination. Rural communities have been identified in ACE’s ‘Rural Evidence and Data Review’ (2014) as having low participation in the arts. The artists interpreted the theme of ‘wonder’, including optical illusions, menageries and displays referencing original touring curiosity shows. Where new technology replaced time-served fairground apparatus, artists employed traditional techniques from original Wunderkammern and sideshows.

Children looking at exhibition cabinet with artworks

The project is discussed in Brown’s chapter in Mieves & Brown (eds) (2015), Wonder in Contemporary Artistic Practice.

Gallery of Wonder on Tour was funded by Arts Council England.