BAZAAR Art 2019: Why Don’t You…? With Anne Barlow

Why Don’t You…? 

Anne Barlow, Tate Modern Studio


I moved from Art in General in New York City to Tate in the rural seaside town of St Ives in 2017. The experience of living in Cornwall is very different to New York, where you might have 200 exhibition openings in one night. Here, I’ve found that we can work with artists in an in-depth way—a surprise with an institution as large as Tate. We’re a holiday destination in the summertime, but also have a huge local audience with whom our relationship deepens and grows in the ‘off’ seasons. We think carefully about the timely issues in art and society that local people care deeply about, and we’re the only Tate to have a Local’s Pass—enabling Cornish residents to visit the exhibitions as many times as they like. 


St Ives has always been an artistic community and still is. To support this, we’re the only Tate gallery to have an artist residency program. Inviting contemporary artists to engage with a community and its history is really important for fostering new, imaginative conversations. Residencies are beneficial to institutions, too: they give way to unexpected, intriguing, and sometimes challenging projects, meaning that your institution has to adapt and be dynamic. The beauty of residencies in remote locations is that artists can truly focus—when your studio has an enormous picture window looking out onto the sea, the concentration is remarkable! 


This year, Tate is holding solo shows by female artists across all four of its galleries for the first time in history. I always commission and exhibit based on the strength of an artist’s idea, but we have to be conscious that over many decades women have had fewer opportunities than men. In September, we open an exhibition by Nigerian-born artist Otobong Nkanga, and we just held the first UK retrospective of Egyptian-Canadian artist Anna Boghiguian, who should have had a major show years ago—in cases like this, it’s important to give decades’ worth of incredible work the recognition it deserves. 

Otobong Nkanga, Infinite Yield, 2015


A partnership is a genuine relationship, which means that it is complex, it evolves, and requires openness to make it work. Your partner might have contrasting ways of working, or question your programme, so you need to be flexible and adapt, which I think is healthy and keeps your institution on its toes. Our partnership with the local Falmouth University offers opportunities to hundreds of students, who are the emerging artists of our region, to become part of our young people’s programme where they produce events and exhibitions within Tate. 


Biennials are a very particular interest of mine, having worked on European biennials in Riga, Bucharest, and Tbilisi in Georgia. As they often exist outside of a building or gallery, biennials occupy a very public territory; and by inviting international artists to engage with a site, they can really draw out its specific characteristics. I don’t believe in biennials ‘parachuting’ in and disappearing again, and prefer biennials that have year-round activity or think long-term—like Liverpool Biennial’s 10-year plan.

Tsumeb Fragments, 2015, Otobong Nkanga