Obituary: Barry Prothero

Emmanuel Cooper
Sunday 23 October 2011 00:35

Barry Prothero was a committed fighter for gay liberation and an innovative curator, who helped set up and direct the Angel Row Gallery for Nottinghamshire County Council.

After university in his native Australia, Prothero worked in art galleries, which spurred him towards further study at Sydney University, where he specialised in the history of art. A brilliant student, he was awarded a government scholarship to attend the Warburg Institute in London, and in 1977 spent six months in Italy practising the language and studying art at first hand before moving to London.

Excited by London's cultural and political activity, Prothero found the atmosphere of the Warburg too conservative, and transferred to the more liberal Courtauld Institute, though his request to write about David Hockney was turned down on the grounds that "there was nothing to say". Later he threw himself into gay politics, and was an active member of the Gay Activist Alliance, taking part in campaigns to "zap" W.H. Smith's shops for their refusal to sell Gay News, and picketing British Home Stores for sacking a gay worker, Tony Whitehead.

In 1980 Prothero became the first gay rights officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties. Here he contributed to publications on employment rights and initiated campaigns to raise the issue of transsexuals, getting the case of April Ashley taken up by the European Court of Human Rights.

He then moved briefly to the Lesbian and Gay Centre, the brainchild of the Greater London Council, before returning to his first love as visual arts officer for Nottingham County Council and moving to Nottingham. Determined that the city should have a gallery devoted to contemporary work, he persuaded the council to set up the elegant and spacious Angel Row Gallery in a prime city- centre site. He devised a wide-ranging programme which included work by artists such as Alison Wilding and John Keane as well as exhibitions of fine crafts. A major success was to commission Helen Chadwick to cast her sculptural pieces Piss Flowers (1994) for a spectacular show which subsequently toured to the Serpentine Gallery in London. Prothero's confidence, knowledge and inter-personal skills calmed the anxieties of local counsellors about work which carried an element of sensationalism. Among other thought- provoking exhibitions were installations by Susan Trangmar and Duncan Higgins which were visual responses to coal mining, an industry which had dominated the area for nearly 200 years.

Two years ago increasing ill-health led Prothero to take early retirement and he returned to London. Earlier this year his long-time partner, Tim Lunn, died, leaving him bereft. Despite failing health (he died of an Aids-related illness) he continued to pursue the interests which throughout his life had given him pleasure notably music, the visual arts and theatre.

Slight in stature, with chiselled features and curly black hair, Barry Prothero brought to his work not only Byronic good looks, but an intellectual rigour, a lively imagination and, most usefully, a wicked wit.

Barry Graeme Prothero, curator: born Perth, Australia 28 May 1945; died London 26 November 1996.

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