Catalogue: Francis Bacon to Paula Rego

Jeanette Edgar on why Abbot Hall's 50th anniversary was the chance to publish a special catalogue
Jeanette Edgar
To catalogue or not to catalogue? The inevitable question considered when planning an exhibition and one we asked ourselves about the Francis Bacon to Paula Rego exhibition (until 16 September) at Abbot Hall Art Gallery in Kendal.

A catalogue has been an essential element of many previous exhibitions so it seemed inconceivable not to produce one for this milestone exhibition – Abbot Hall’s 50th-anniversary summer show.

The exhibition brings together works from Abbot Hall’s own collection with items from national institutions and collections. The production of the catalogue was always going to be a significant investment of resources, so it was essential that it enriched and reflected the exhibition, demonstrating the care its curators have taken in their work and the time and budget invested in it.

We asked ourselves the usual questions. Who is it for? Is it for the artists, curators or gallery, as a permanent record of the exhibition; the marketing department for publicity, to inform the prospective audience and the media of Abbot Hall’s continued ambition; or the visitor, to provide additional information about the exhibition; or is it simply a souvenir for the cultural tourist?

The truth is that it’s all of the above and as such had to satisfy a wide brief and an even wider audience. As a result, the catalogue has been written and designed like the exhibition itself, presenting information in a clear and accessible way.

Why are we producing it? Because a catalogue offers much more information than the exhibition labels alone can. It says things about the exhibition that the exhibition cannot say for itself and will outlive the show.

A well-designed and printed catalogue can bring valuable publicity to an exhibition and its sponsors, and survives as a legacy for the gallery.

A successful catalogue needs a cover that seduces the reader, the content should be informative and easy to navigate, and all this should be accompanied by good-quality images.

The photographer Ansel Adams suggested a catalogue should be “not so big that it can’t be taken comfortably to bed”.

At 245mm x 295mm, Francis Bacon to Paula Rego is a slightly oversized publication but an economic one for production and certainly manageable as an exhibition or bedtime companion. Its 68 pages illustrate all 34 works with 40 colour plates.

There is an introduction by the curator Helen Watson, an insightful essay by the artist Robert Priseman, and biographies of all 18 exhibiting artists, making it a relevant and permanent reference tool.

Jeanette Edgar is the director, marketing and communications, at the Lakeland Arts Trust, Cumbria

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