Charlie Levine is a curator, critic and the director of TROVE, a contemporary art gallery based in the Engine Room of Birmingham’s old Science and Industry Museum. She talks about the importance of studio visits, mentors and mid-week dinner meetings…
Full name/age/job title:
Charlie Levine, 31, Independent Curator, Writer/Critic, Director of TROVE and Co-founder of Clarke Griffiths Levine.
Please give us an overview of your average day.
I wake up and I’m straight on my laptop checking emails, Facebook, Twitter and my blogs. I like to get on top of the administration part of my day. Later, I usually have several meetings: these could be with the TROVE team discussing the programme, artist studio visits, exhibition viewings, meetings with other creative industry professionals, advice sessions for other curators/artists, lunch meetings with partner organisations or potential partners, etc. I mostly spend my days trying to have face-to-face contact with people I am working with, or would like to work with. If a day is particularly meeting light, I like to research artists, other arts organisations and begin email dialogues with people and companies of interest. In the evenings I might go to a preview and all Clarke Griffiths Levine meetings happen over a mid-week dinner. Before I go to bed I like to blog about what I have seen that day if I believe it is of interest.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That curating is mostly creative. When I first got into curating one of the bits of advice I was given was, “curating is 90% administrative, 10% creative.” Having good administrative skills and being able to keep on top of diaries, people, deadlines etc. is very important.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
The hardest part (and highlight) of my job is that every day is different. You are always meeting new people and juggling several projects at once, so being able to prioritise is essential.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I was in my third year of my Photography BA when I was first introduced to the idea that I could be a curator/critic rather than practitioner. My tutor pointed out that my strengths lay in research and collection of information, as well as presentation, and that that is essentially curating. I moved back home to Birmingham, got a part time job at Ikon Gallery and began to involve myself in the Birmingham art scene. Most importantly during this time I first properly encountered independent and artist-led galleries and truly understood the importance of artist studio visits and travelling the country to see artists and develop a taste and curatorial style. I did an MA in Critical and Contextual Art Practices at Birmingham City University in 2006, which is when I curated my first exhibitions. I then got an internship at International Project Space, under Andrew Hunt, and he supported and encouraged my independent practice. Ever since I have been initiating my own projects, sometimes curating over 12 exhibitions a year.
What can you do to get a head start?
Ask that question to someone you admire or who is doing the career you’re after. I have been very lucky to have had some very influential mentors in my career thus far; mentors who have really helped guide and direct my practice, highlight opportunities and show me what was possible. All of these mentors helped because I asked them to.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
The creative elements in curating are varied, from hanging/displaying works, to finding artists you like and want to work with, to designing marketing material, to writing press releases and text around exhibitions. Although the creative part of curating is seen as the smaller portion of your day, it is actually very important. It’s all about detail and design.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That it’s ok to not always know the answer. Not knowing the answer allows you to look at problems from different angles, ultimately making each situation better, with a well thought out conclusion.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
If I were looking to find new artists I would start with profiling websites such as Saatchi Online and Axis. I would make sure I go to degree and final show exhibitions. I would also look at awards and opportunities focused primarily on highlighting young up-and-comings, such as Catlin Art Prize, Bloomberg New Contemporaries and the various Jerwood art prizes. I would then look at the CVs of artists I like and look at where they had exhibited, and then research that gallery’s programme and keep rolling from there.
Follow Charlie Levine on Twitter.
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