Farewell Biennial: Susan Forsyth talks about her inaugural Biennial experience

Art Sheds History, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

The Art Sheds is my first Biennial experience and I have enjoyed it hugely.


In 2013 my Zusammen Choir project paraded past the Waterhouse clocktower on Rochdale Town Hall but until I stepped through the front door of the Victoria Gallery & Museum on a freezing January morning I had never experienced the interior of a Waterhouse building before – it is a hidden gem of architectural space.

Site-specific work is the artistic equivalent of tight-rope walking – highly risky during the process itself but very rewarding when you make it successfully to the other side.   I am a sculptor and on hearing the wonderful history of this original University College Liverpool building I designed the Art Sheds on the train home from my first meeting.  The actual content took longer to think through – it turns out you can’t actually hang priceless Turner artwork on a nail at the back of a shed…

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

I spent many hours in darkened rooms with the Victoria Gallery Art Curator, Moira Lindsay and Jade Ryan, the Collections Apprentice searching through the treasures of paintings, prints, silver and miscellaneous.  I love the VG&M’s Bridget Riley print, the exquisite silver and the 1950s cigarette packets but decided to include work up to and including the Art Sheds period.  So, although the hang and the labels break just about every other rule of contemporary curating, there is a coherent framework to the hang.  I am very pleased with the final result.

Gilding the roof

Artist Susan Forsyth adds gold leaf to an Art Shed roof.

Public participation involves a lot more people than a conventional show.  The Visitor Services Team at the VG&M are amazing – running three artists’ studios for the full 16-week run of the Biennial.  Thanks to them our ‘Art Sheds Participating Artist’ medals have gone around the world!

susan in gal7

Susan with her ‘chosen ones’ in Gallery 7

On the first day of the Biennial I headed out to see as many shows as I could.  My heart lifted when I entered the wonderful Claude Parent show at Tate Liverpool. It was completely rammed with adults and children interacting with the space and the work.  I knew that Liverpool audiences would not be shy about having a go!  I followed the art critic Adrian Searle around the stunning Open Eye Gallery – he was absorbed as I was by the black & white images.  I trained as a painter at Chelsea and the sheer range and scale of work at the Liverpool John Moores Painting Prize was very interesting.  I also spent some time in the casts room on the first floor.  Before the show closes I am giving a talk to students at Liverpool John Moores University and I’ll be heading to the Bluecoat to see the Whistler show – two of his Nocturnes are in the show and also Sharon Lockhart’s show at FACT.


Susan has her first ever ‘selfie’, taken by a Liverpool John Moores art student

2015 is the tenth anniversary of my first large-scale public art project at the Live 8 concert in Hyde Park.  Bob Geldof, Richard Curtis and every Prime Minister attending the summit received a small canvas.  The archive comprises almost one hundred paintings and drawings and will be shown in the summer of next year.

On hearing I was working in Liverpool my Dad told me a nice story.  He arrived in the city on an overnight ferry from Ireland aged 16 in the early 50s.  His one suitcase, containing his entire record collection, was carried to the bus stop by a kindly policeman who laughed out loud when he found out what he was carrying and told the bus driver to make sure he got off safely at Lime Street station.

I was born in Tipperary and have felt completely at home in a city where people find it perfectly natural to be nice to complete strangers.   Liverpool has welcomed the world during the Biennial; thank you for allowing me to be part of it.

You can keep up with Susan Forsyth’s world via her website at susanforsyth.com or follow her on Twitter @SusanForsyth_.


The Art Sheds: Enhancing the Visitor Experience

Art Sheds Collections, Art Sheds History, Art Sheds Teachers, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth, Visitor Interaction

The Visitor Services Team is an integral part of the day to day running and maintenance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum and part of their job is to maintain exhibitions, particularly ones with interactive elements.  The Art Sheds is a prime example of an exhibition that requires regular maintenance by the team to ensure that it always looks good for visitors.  Visitor Services Team member Vicky recalls some of the tasks the team had to consider when looking after this exhibition.


A panoramic picture of the Art Sheds, taken by the Visitor Services Team’s Duty Manager Kim

“From the very beginning we were briefed by artist Susan Forsyth and our curator Moira Lindsay on what our role would be in helping to maintain the Art Sheds exhibition.  As it is an interactive exhibit there are a number of things that would need to be taken care of on a daily or weekly basis.

“Members of our team were invited to briefing meetings with the curatorial and technical staff so that we could give our opinion on what issues we thought might arise from a visitor’s perspective.  As these are actual sheds, they are raised off the ground slightly, so we had to find a way to ensure that visitors with mobility issues would be able to use the sheds.  To solve this issue we purchased a small ramp.  We also quickly discovered that although the sheds are child-friendly they are not pram-friendly due to the small size of the interior and the plinths used to display the statues and the vase so we created a sign with instructions for parents visiting with babies and smaller children.

ink pots

The Ink Pots for the Nudes Shed

“We regularly replenished the ink in the inkwells and ensured that pencils were always available.   We were given a metal embosser so that we could mark the thick cartridge paper supplied in the Art Sheds with a logo and replaced the paper levels regularly. The watercolour paint trays required regular cleaning and visitor art was collected and displayed on regular rotation in our reception area.  Co-ordinating requests for workshop places and setting up trestle tables and seating for tours and talks was also our responsibility.


The metal embosser supplied by Susan to create ‘watermarked’ Art Sheds paper

“One of my favourite parts of the exhibition was taking pictures of visitors receiving the medals that Susan Forsyth designed for those who participated in the exhibition.  They were so popular and the looks on the faces of the children especially when they were presented with a medal was really heart-warming, they were so excited and proud of themselves!


Two happy Art Sheds artists with their creations and their limited edition medals, designed by Susan Forsyth!

“We also took regular general photos and posted images and news on our social media pages to encourage visitors to come and try out the Art Sheds. We liaised with the Liverpool Biennial team who helped us by cross posting and re-tweeting messages, and we even received a mention in the Liverpool Echo, which we were thrilled with.


Our mention as one of the Liverpool Echo’s top ‘Biennial Picks’!

“So many people commented on how pretty and fun the Art Sheds were, and how in particular the exhibition had made their children excited about art. Lots of people also commented on how they enjoyed hearing about the history of the Art Sheds whilst on our weekly free drop-in guided tours (every Tuesday and Thursday at 12.30pm), imagining them sitting out on our Quad over 100 years ago from the view out of the window and how seeing the art in Gallery 7 by artists such as Augustus John really made the sheds’ history ‘come alive’.


Donkey Easels – what a great name!

“I also remember us all being tickled when three large boxes arrived marked ‘DONKEY EASEL’ in big letters and then the penny dropping when the boxes were opened containing the clever little easels with the flip up tops and the benches attached for the visitors to sit on when creating their art.  And last, but by no means least, I loved it when Susan asked us to help to put together this blog to accompany the exhibition, which we hope you have enjoyed reading as much as we have enjoyed writing it.  The Art Sheds exhibition has been so much fun, so informative and we have loved taking care of it.”

The Art Sheds exhibition closes this weekend, Saturday October 25th 2014.

The Art Sheds are looking for a new home

Curatorial, Susan Forsyth, Visitor Interaction

****PLEASE NOTE:  We are no longer accepting entries for the Art Sheds giveaway.  The artist and our Curator will make a decision soon.  We had an overwhelming response and it may take a little while to make an announcement.  We thank you for your patience****

Have you visited and enjoyed our Art Sheds exhibition?

The three Art Sheds.

The three sheds, shortly after completion.

Do you know of somewhere that would love to make use of the Art Sheds?

Susan Forsyth and Victoria Gallery & Museum are looking to re-home these much-loved key components of this Liverpool Biennial 2014 exhibition for use in Liverpool.

The Art Sheds are FREE to a good home.  We would like the sheds to stay together, but will consider splitting them up if only one can be accommodated.  If you wish to use them outside, they will need weatherproofing with varnish, which we would advise on.

We are sorry, but the sheds are not being offered for domestic use.

If you have a brilliant suggestion for relocating the Art Sheds, please do get in touch via vgm@liv.ac.uk.  Please register interest by 22.10.2014.

Spotlight on Gallery 7: Joseph Mallord William Turner – ‘The Old Mill, Ambleside’ (1798)

Art Sheds Collections, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

In Gallery 7, you can see a selection of artworks from the collections of the Victoria Gallery & Museum.  Susan Forsyth has hand-picked some of her favourite pieces, including works which she considers compliment and/or represent the grandeur and importance of the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s collections. Here, Susan looks at one of those artworks in depth.

The Old Mill, Ambleside, by J.M.W. Turner

The Old Mill, Ambleside, by J.M.W. Turner

“I grew up with a print of Turner’s exquisite late painting, ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ (1839) and I telling my students that in my opinion the first Impressionist painter was the son of an English wig-maker.

“Though the ‘painter of light’ lived in interesting times he focused his considerable genius on recording the land and sea instead of recording the more profitable events of history. A precocious talent, Turner’s watercolour of Lambeth Palace was exhibited at the Royal Academy Summer show in 1790, when he was only 15 years old. Turner spent several years copying classical plaster busts similar to those we have in the current Art Sheds exhibition and developing the drawing and watercolour painting skills.

“The Museum has several impressive Turners but I chose this small, apparently unassuming watercolour as it is firstly less well-known and secondly has a link to the north of England. It was painted when Turner was still a relatively young, age 23. He had been befriended by a wealthy and cultured historian Walter Fawkes. The young Turner visited the kindly patron at his home in Otley, North Yorkshire and painted many local scenes on his many long walks in the inspiring scenery. To this day Farnley Hall in Wharfedale has several hundred of Turner’s early works.

“This small unassuming painting can tell us a lot about how Turner born and brought up in London’s busy Covent Garden became the foremost landscape painter of his, or any, century.”

The Art Sheds exhibition for the Liverpool Biennial 2014 runs at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until Saturday 25th October.

Curator’s View: Moira Lindsay on the Art Sheds

Art Sheds Collections, Curatorial, Susan Forsyth

Moira Lindsay is the Victoria Gallery & Museum’s Art Curator.  Together with Susan Forsyth they discussed Susan’s original proposal for ‘The Victoria Art School: the smallest art school in the world’.  On Susan’s first visit to us Moira explained the history of our collections and the University’s School of Applied Art and Architecture. Here Moira recaps the process of developing the idea of the Victoria Art School into the Art Sheds and choosing the accompanying artwork.

“We were sitting in my office which overlooks the quadrangle and I mentioned the Art Sheds (pointing out the quad through my window, as this is where they used to sit.) Susan was really taken with the art sheds and keen to respond to the history of the site and went on to develop her proposal to devise Susan Forsyth: Art Sheds.

The original Art Sheds

The original Art Sheds

“Over the next week or so Susan and I talked about our exhibition and I sent her more information on the sheds, the artists and related works from our collection. We then scheduled visits to the stores so that Susan could get a really good feel for the scope of the collections, which are fairly – and wonderfully – eclectic. For Susan it was crucial to see the objects in the flesh, so she patiently spent many hours with us in the stores. Susan was so thorough I think she probably knows more about some parts of the collections than I do!

“What I was most excited about was Susan’s interest in items that perhaps are overlooked, or not the obvious ‘star’ items. We went through as much as we could looking at original objects in the stores, discussing them, and then Susan created her first list of objects that she wanted to display. This list was of course then refined as Susan thought about how the selection of works related to the shed sculptures and her themes.

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

Moira, Susan and apprentice Jade discussing the works in Gallery 7

“One of my favourite objects is the Gregson sampler. We have six samplers in the Gregson collection, all made by girls in the Gregson family, one of them is dedicated to a sibling that died at 2 years old. Susan knew in advance about the samplers but when she saw them she was really moved by their history. Working daily in a collection we sometimes forget how amazing it is to have access to these things. It was a delight to work with Susan and I am so pleased that she chose to use our collections in her installation. Looking at historic collections with an artist brings a fresh perspective and hearing what inspires artists is insightful and often unexpected.”

The Art Sheds exhibition for the Liverpool Biennial 2014 runs at the Victoria Gallery & Museum until 25th October.