Simon Maidment is standing at one end of a boardroom table covered with a model version of NGV International’s galleries. He’s pensive. In front of him lie the fruits of four years of work, in corflute form: a miniature spread of the supersized exhibition that will open on December 15. Polypropylene walls are blu-tacked so that the model is somewhat modular, but what we’re looking at is probably the final layout.
In one ‘gallery’, a tiny plastic figurine gazes at petite paper versions of artworks glued to the walls; in another, silver cardboard reflects a floor-afixed print-out of sworling forms that looks like a galaxy. A behemoth Buddha, supine in slumber, presides over the NGV forecourt. Blu-tacked laminate labels with names of artists are affixed to gallery walls: Yayoi Kusama; TeamLab; Reko Rennie; Candice Breitz; Xu Zhen.
Many of the artists and artworks in the NGV Triennial were chosen by Maidment, NGV’s senior curator of contemporary art, but that’s really just the beginning of his job. For some of the new works (20 were commissioned from artists by the NGV for the Triennial) Maidment and his team take a hands-on ‘producer’ role. For example, Maidment invited Brazilian designers Fernando and Humberto Campana (Estudio Campana) to work with Northern Territory collective Yarrenyty Arltere Artists, and then brokered their relationship with both the project manager – Australian designer Elliat Rich – and Indigenous manufacturing outfit Centre for Appropriate Technology. The result is an embroidered dome-like structure, titled ‘Victoria Amazonica’. “We’ve essentially project-managed that work from the ground up,” Maidment says.
Even for existing works, the curator’s role can be integral. One of Maidment’s early picks, German artist Josephine Meckseper, was initially slated to present one of her vitrine pieces, which had been recently acquired by the NGV, but has ended up devising a whole-of-room installation of complementary elements – including a patterned perspex floor, a mirrored wall, and a new narrative video work – after ongoing dialogue with the curator. “In some cases, you’re looking at ways in which the artwork can be sort of extended or extrapolated upon,” says Maidment.
The next step for the curator is working out how, where and alongside what to present each piece in the exhibition (working in tandem with the NGV exhibition design team). “It’s a big show with some big ideas, and some really significant makers. The challenge is to give a bit of breathing space to each of the works.”
The ultimate ‘finesse’ is the creation of an ‘experience’ (or in the case of a large exhibition like the Triennial, a series of experiences) that audiences will not only find moving, stimulating and enjoyable, but will return for – often several times over the exhibition’s four-month duration.
Truth be told: the NGV Triennial will be too big to absorb in one visit. Bearing this in mind, Maidment has organised ‘zones’ of experience, each of which offers a choreographed promenade through one gallery to the next – ideally never too overwhelmed, or conversely, bored.
Pointing to the ground-floor temporary exhibition galleries (where Dior is currently in exhibition, and before that Van Gogh), which is themed around ‘the body’, Maidment says, “Really it’s thinking about, well, if someone comes to this part of the show, what is the series of experiences they’re going to have? And making those in some way coherent, or an interesting interplay. A lot of my job is to do with choreographing that experience.”