Jane Brown is the gallery manager at the Atkinson

Q&A with Jane Brown

Eleanor Mills, 11.05.2016
The Atkinson's manager on winning £8,000 towards a shopping spree for the gallery's collection
The London Original Print Fair (5-8 May), held annually at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, launched a new award this year sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance. An £8,000 grant, the Ecclesiastical Original Print Award affords museums the opportunity to spend the prize money on work at the London Original Print Fair to add to their collection.

Five museums and galleries were shortlisted – Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford, Graves Art Gallery in Sheffield, Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, and the University of Warwick Art Collection – with this year’s winner being the Atkinson in Southport, Merseyside.
Here, the Atkinson’s gallery manager, Jane Brown, talks about scouring the fair for artwork to buy for the Atkinson’s collection.
Your museum has just won the £8,000 Ecclesiastical Print Award to spend at London Original Print Fair. What does this mean for the museum?

Like a lot of regional museums and art galleries we have very little core budget to purchase new work for the collection and have to rely on grants or donations to carry out this important part of our practise. Receiving such a substantial grant for purchasing a new print is a rare opportunity to develop our collections. It is also a great chance to raise the profile of our existing collection of prints, which includes work by celebrated British artists such as Richard Hamilton, Paulo Rego and Elisabeth Frink, as well as European artists including the likes of Rembrandt and Matisse.
How was your art shopping spree?
It was a bit overwhelming at first but very exciting. Thankfully everyone at the print fair was really supportive and encouraging. I had to make my decision pretty quickly – I had just the one full day at the fair – but it was a great opportunity to assert myself as a curator. I found it empowering, and I am very happy with my decision.
How did you make the choice of buying the Rachel Whiteread series 12 Objects, 12 Etchings? What do these prints bring to the collection?
I had conversations with the rest of the curatorial team at the Atkinson before I travelled down to London so I had a good idea about what I was aiming to find. We wanted a contemporary print by an important female artist to plug some of the obvious gaps in our collection – which, like a lot of regional collections, is still dominated by male artists. Purchasing a print by a female artist also meant that we could get the new work on display really quickly as part of our new exhibition First Ladies: Pioneering Female Artists, opening to the public on 3 June.
I wanted to purchase a print that had a story that we could share with our visitors; Rachel Whiteread’s series 12 Objects, 12 Etchings has a lot to tell people about how artists approach their practise and what inspires them. I spent a lot of time visiting the different booths at the fair and talking to the dealers who were so knowledgeable and passionate about the artists they represent. The open conversations we had really helped me come to the final decision.
How does this support the wider work and vision at the Atkinson?

It was important for us to purchase a work by a female artist as it demonstrates our commitment to addressing the gender imbalance in our collections. We are also keen to continue to display (and purchase where possible) contemporary work to complement our existing historical collections.
Does this acquisition alter your future plans?

We are currently about half way through a major Esmée Fairbairn-funded project called Rediscovering Our Collections, in which we are researching and documenting our important collection of prints and drawings. Acquiring a new, contemporary print pushes this collection in to new areas; we hope to be able to work with our patrons and friends groups to continue to add to this collection. We are also developing further exhibitions of prints as part of the project so we will be looking to display Whiteread’s work again soon.