Carol Brown

Open-minded and open-hearted curator of international art exhibitions at the Barbican
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The Independent Online

At the time of her death at the age of 50, Carol Brown was at the height of her career, as Head of Art Galleries at the Barbican Centre in London. Her professional collaboration for more than 25 years with art institutions, curators and artists from Africa, Central America, China, Iran and the Far East brought a huge number of colleagues who became her friends, admiring her professionalism, absence of ego, her generosity of spirit and her respectful attitude towards other cultures.

Carol Brown, curator: born London 16 March 1954; Exhibition Organiser, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford 1981-88; Senior Exhibition Organiser, Barbican Art Gallery 1988-2001, Head of Exhibitions, Barbican Centre 2001-2002, Head of Art Galleries 2002-2004; died London 4 October 2004.

At the time of her death at the age of 50, Carol Brown was at the height of her career, as Head of Art Galleries at the Barbican Centre in London. Her professional collaboration for more than 25 years with art institutions, curators and artists from Africa, Central America, China, Iran and the Far East brought a huge number of colleagues who became her friends, admiring her professionalism, absence of ego, her generosity of spirit and her respectful attitude towards other cultures.

Brown's great curiosity about other countries' aesthetics and perspectives on art and life made her a great traveller, researcher and exhibition organiser. An open-minded and open-hearted scholar, she was diligent with getting the facts straight and approached every subject with great enthusiasm and drive. Her very British modesty about her knowledge and influence made me admire her even more.

I discovered in her a great travel companion in our trips to the Middle East, particularly in Egypt in 1993 to prepare the Barbican exhibition "The Art of African Textiles: technology, tradition and Lurex" (1995), co-curated with John Picton. Other research trips to Africa resulted in the "African Photography" exhibition in 1999, which featured the work of Seydou Keita. Our visit to Iran in 1999 and 2000 led to a joint collaboration as co-curators of "Iranian Contemporary Art" (2001). A supportive curator, who never became angry, tired or annoyed, she saw everything in a positive light and would shrug off any unpleasant incidents and leave them forgotten.

With enthusiasm and passion she discovered new artists on her research trips including Chant Avedissian in Cairo as well as unknown craftsmen and tentmakers such as the late Salah Ed-Din el Ozy, from whom she commissioned a gateway in cotton appliqué. Rather than having a traditional religious blessing appliquéd to the gateway, we chose instead a poem by Abou Nawas, a late eighth-century Iraqi poet, that read: "Say it to the one who knows it all, You might have learnt something, but many things have slipped you by." This work, and the Avedissian piece were later acquired by the Museum of Mankind in London.

Brown was an expert at talent spotting; she had a good eye, and did not care if artists were established or not - the quality of the work justified its inclusion in an exhibition. She predicted the current Turner Prize candidate Yinka Shonibare 10 years before everyone else; his installation in her "African Textiles" exhibition was later acquired by the Saatchi collection.

The only European curator I know who could read and understand Arabic, Brown was also very knowledgeable about the history of Islamic cultures. Her understanding of the region was expressed as a genuine interest in a culture that was denigrated in the West. Her exhibitions helped lessen the prejudice and misrepresentation of the rest of the world.

In 1994 she worked with Val Williams on "Who's Looking at the Family?" (1994). This photographic exhibition included works by Susan Lipper, Sally Mann and Richard Billingham as well as the Iraqi-Irish artist Jananne Al Ani, all of whom were exploring intimate familial relationships within the domestic environment.

Carol Brown was born in London and educated at Henrietta Barnett School, and later studied Fine Art and History of Art at Edinburgh University. She worked for the Scottish Printmakers' Workshop before moving to the Oxford Museum of Modern Art in 1981, as assistant to the director, David Elliott.

Here she developed her practical skills in organising remarkable exhibitions of diverse material from all over the world. From the Soviet Union came "Mayakovsky" (1982); "Art into Production: Soviet ceramics, textiles and fashion 1917-1935" (1984); and "Eisenstein at Ninety" (1988). She also worked on shows from India, Mexico, South Africa and Japan. Brown and Elliott's last collaboration was "100 Years of Russian Art" (1989).

Brown then joined the Barbican Art Gallery team in 1988 as Senior Exhibition Organiser. She was promoted in 2001 to Head of Exhibitions following the merging of the Barbican galleries with the rest of the Barbican Art Centre, and in 2002 became Head of Art Galleries, where she oversaw the much-needed renovation of the Barbican's Curve Gallery.

Carole Brown's attitude to life was positive, objective and philosophical. Her high energy, concentration, meticulousness, managerial skills, level-headedness, humour, infectious laughter and most of all her fairness when faced with choices or frustrating situations, made working with her a pleasure. It was her way of finding elegant solutions to any problem that made Carol Brown such a great curator and an excellent colleague and friend.

Rose Issa



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