The University of Edinburgh has launched a new collection designed to enhance research and postgraduate teaching in the fields of contemporary art and curating. Developed with the support of staff and students in the School of History of Art, its first acquisition is The Common Sense (2015) by the New York-based artist Melanie Gilligan.

To initiate the Contemporary Art Research Collection, Kirsten Lloyd, a Lecturer in Curatorial Theory and Practice at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Neil Lebeter, Deputy Director of Museums, worked closely with the student-led Collections Development Group.  Alongside this work, Kirsten has been developing partnerships with Edinburgh’s key cultural institutions to build a unique new Masters by Research in Collections and Curating Practices. Students starting on the programme in September 2017 will lead a programme of public exhibitions and events linked to the new acquisition.

Generous assistance to buy The Common Sense was given by the Art Fund, a charity that helps museums and galleries to acquire ambitious work. Gilligan’s piece is described by Kirsten as “a sci-fi, feminist video work, screened across 15 episodes. The episodes are mounted on flat-screen televisions in a scaffolding structure that’s purpose-built. The audience wears headphones and moves around the space to follow the narratives.”

“The first theme we’re working to in the new collection is globalisation, and we picked that because it has the capacity to reach across different disciplines in the university,” said Kirsten, “And there’s also a huge amount of expertise in ECA around the intersection between globalisation and art.”

“Expanding the current holdings in terms of medium is important, but we also want to challenge them in terms of geographic focus and gender,” said Kirsten, “most of the artists behind the works in the collection are men and we are very keen to redress this imbalance.”

The work has previously been on display in Talbot Rice Gallery as part of the British Art Show in 2015, and is now part of the University of Edinburgh Collections.

“Linking the collection to research and teaching in this way I think further embeds it into the life of Edinburgh College of Art, which is exactly what it should be for,” said Neil Lebeter, Art Collections Curator at University of Edinburgh, “I hope that students will have an increasing part in the development in this collection and gain experience in navigating the process of acquiring art works.”

“In substance and form, we haven’t collected anything like this before,” he said, “a film work that is also a sculpture presents all kinds of interesting curatorial challenges; from display, interpretation to the very day to day aspects of how we store it when it’s not exhibited.”

“I really look forward to working with a group of students who are shaping the future of the collection,” said Neil.

Development Group in front of the Collective Gallery
Photography by Isabella Russell
Collection Development Group in front of the Collective Gallery at the City Observatory
"The Common Sense" (2015) on display in Talbot Rice Gallery
Image by Chris Park
"The Common Sense" (2015) on display in Talbot Rice Gallery during the British Art Show in 2015

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