Royal Society of Sculptors 2022: In Conversation with Isabel de Vasconcellos

By Isabel de Vasoncellos
July 07, 2022 04:13pm

The Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Show is just around the corner and so last week we had the chance to speak with the show’s curator, and Director of Sculpture for Messums Wiltshire, Isabel de Vasconcellos.

As partners of the Royal Society of Sculptors, we asked Isabel a few questions to find out what we can expect from this year’s show at Cromwell Place.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do.

The common thread that runs through everything I’ve done since I started out, is working with artists. Whether it’s representing and championing their interests, curating exhibitions, project managing commissions, interviewing them (as I’ve done with the RSS’s Behind the Studio Doors series) or writing, it all begins with curiosity, dialogue and a connection.

How did you get into curating?

When I finished my MA in Contemporary Art in the mid-90’s, my tutors were all agreed that I should become a curator and art critic in the traditional vein, which would have involved applying for a job in a public museum or similar, and taking it from there. And having started down that path by doing an internship in the Visual Arts Department of the British Council, it looked like things would go that way, until I had an unexpected medical emergency that took me out of circulation for a while.

Coming back from it, the first thing I was offered was a job as Artist Liaison at what then still a relatively small gallery in St James’s called White Cube. At that stage, I just wanted to get on with it, so I jumped at the chance. It was there that I realised how much I enjoyed working directly with artists, and I’ve been doing so ever since.

Starting this way meant that I got a very different, and often more intimate, perspective on what is involved conceiving and exhibiting works of art, and I’ve enjoyed the independence of working largely outside institutional contexts, and directly with artists. It’s a very good grounding in working intuitively, and trusting the creative alchemy that takes an idea and an energy, gives it form and presents it to the world.

royal society of sculptors

What do you like most about the work that you do?

It’s inspiring to be there, oftentimes before the work of art even exists; but it’s also wonderful to set out on the trail of something you sense is there to be discovered and bring it to light.

What do you think are the main issues that currently exist in the art world?

As someone who’s been conscious of climate change since my teens, and observed the ballooning footprint of the art world with anxiety, I’m very happy about the founding of programmes like the Gallery Climate Coalition, to explore new blueprints and share more sustainable ways of working. Artists, museums and galleries can do a lot to invite people to think and act differently, and to value the earth’s resources in more equitable ways.

Tideline, which is on at Messums Wiltshire until 3 July, features artists (a few of them members of the Royal Society of Sculptors!) working with climate change and the marine environment, and we programmed a day of talks with scientists, designers, writers and activists as part of the exhibition. What emerged was how much common ground and creative thinking there is across disciplines; and the huge reserves of ingenuity there to be explored and put into practice. There is agency, and much we can all do as we recalibrate our priorities and actions.

Another pressing issue is to do with nurturing the wellspring of the art world – emerging artists – at a time when studio spaces and the economic demands of rent, and cost of living in general are putting time to think, experiment and establish a career out of the reach of too many. The quality, diversity and risk-taking that make for truly interesting and vibrant work will suffer.

As partners of the Royal Society of Sculptors, we’re looking forward to The Summer Show at Cromwell Place. What’s in store this year?

I had such a great time looking through the submissions to the Royal Society of Sculptors Summer Show this year. The quality was amazing, and curatorially, there were several directions I could have taken in my selection. Given more space, I would’ve chosen 2 – 3 themes to explore, but in the end, there was a particularly strong confluence of works that touched on landscape and the natural world. I think together they will make for a poetic and transporting exhibition, with a touch of humour thrown in.

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