Compton Verney and Unlimited: a new partnership

Compton Verney and Unlimited: a new partnership
Open Call full announcement

On International Day of Disabled People in 2021, we announced that Compton Verney and Unlimited would be working together in 2022 and calling out to find disabled artists working with sensory practices to link to Compton Verney’s Naples galleries. Here Isabella Tulloch Gallego, Programme Manager at Shape Arts, talks to Amy Orrock, Senior Curator at Compton Verney to find out more…

IGT:  We’ve long wanted to extend our work with disabled artists to include organisations who have established permanent visual art collections and to have this opportunity with you is amazing – tell us more about Compton Verney, it’s history and what it’s here to do.

AO: Compton Verney is relatively young for a visual arts organisation – we are still in our teens and will celebrate our 20th birthday in 2024. We are in many ways unique, founded by the businessman and philanthropist Sir Peter Moores, who had a strong drive for inclusivity and the vision of creating an art gallery in the heart of Warwickshire that would break down barriers to connect non-traditional audiences to world-class art. Sir Peter wanted to make Compton Verney ‘one of the most artistically accessible museums in the country’. He died in 2016, but today our mission remains closely aligned to his original vision of connecting people, art, nature and creativity in accessible and at times unexpected ways. We are very lucky to have beautiful gallery spaces, 120 acres of parkland and six permanent collections that are rich in art from a broad range of places and time periods.

ITG: Your permanent collections focus on six specific areas which are generally under-represented in other British museums and galleries, is addressing such under-representation part of your mission?

AO:  Many of the artworks in our collections are unique in the UK – we have the third largest collection of Chinese bronzes in Europe, a huge collection of Folk Art featuring everything from toasting forks to weathervanes, and fine art collections that are specifically focused on Northern Europe, Naples and Britain. We are working hard to represent a similar variety of voices and perspectives in our interpretation of these collections. We are here for everyone, and we really want to engage the widest possible audience in our collections. Recently we have undertaken a series of focused projects exploring the hidden histories of our collections and offering new perspectives on them. The outcomes of this are coming to fruition this year, and include new labels written by community groups, and new trails and displays focused on subjects such as sexuality, gender and disability.

ITG: Does this project – a deliberate decision to work with disabled artists – fit within this approach of addressing under-represented art? If not, where is the driver from?

AO: The deliberate decision to commission disabled artists is something that we have not done before on this scale, however it fits within our ambitions to widen accessibility, both in terms of the types of artists we are working with and the kinds of audiences that we are appealing to. We are hoping that one outcome of the Research and Development process will be to suggest ways in which we can better serve visitors with disabilities. A big part of the decision to work with disabled artists was inspired by the subject of the display itself, which will engage with the senses as a theme. We are interested to explore how the experiences of people with disabilities might have informed their sense of taste, touch, sight, hearing and smell; to see the ways in which this might translate in both perceptions of historic art and the creation of new art.  

ITG: This is an opportunity for disabled artists to research, develop and create new work for your Naples galleries as part of the 2023 display project ‘Sensing Naples’. Can you tell us a little more about historic Naples collection and how this connect to the theme of the senses?

AO: In the 1600s and 1700s Naples was a huge, bustling city, an important trading port, and a key stop on the Grand Tour. Tourists came to admire the smoking Vesuvius, which was actively erupting, to scramble over newly-excavated Classical ruins, and to enjoy the flavours and heat of Italy that we still love today. The works in Compton Verney’s collection offer great insights into these aspects of the city – they include still lives of ripe fruit and decaying flowers, religious works expressing the sacred aspects of touch, highly elaborate decorative objects such as caskets and pendants and lots and lots of images of smouldering volcanoes. The idea for a display focused around the senses first took hold in 2020, when we were all locked down for the first time, unable to travel abroad, unable even to touch each other and suffering from a reduced senses of taste and smell. I thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to transport visitors to Naples from within the gallery walls? And the concept of ‘Sensing Naples’ was born.

ITG: What are you looking for within this opportunity? Where would you really like it to take you?

AO: It is always thrilling to work with artists, to see where they go. I cannot predict where this opportunity will take us, that’s part of the fun! We’re really looking forward to seeing what is proposed. I’d like to be surprised, and also hope that the new works might reflect in some way on how throughout history we all have the shared experience of being human.

ITG: That’s probably enough from us two, now to the main thing people will want to know –  what are the details of the opportunity and how can disabled artists apply?

AO: We have all the details of the Open Call on our website, but in a nutshell: the deadline for initial applications is 11 March 2022, we are working towards a shortlist of 6 artists followed by a commission for 2 works, which will form part of our permanent display opening in spring 2023. Artists will be supported with access costs throughout the application and commission process. We want to make this a truly accessible opportunity and are looking forward to hearing from as many artists as possible, so please do apply.

Featured image: Pierre-Jacques Volaire, An Eruption of Vesuvius by Moonlight (c) Compton Verney, photograph by Prudence Cumming Associates Ltd