Ann Dumas: My Week

A curator at the Royal Academy recounts the preparations needed for the new Van Gogh letters exhibition

Gillian Orr
Saturday 23 January 2010 01:00


It's not a typical week for me. It's completely taken up with the opening of the exhibition, The Real Van Gogh: The Artist and His Letters, at the Royal Academy, which I've been working on for the past five years. It's press day tomorrow so I spend the day fine-tuning the installation. I wander around in a daze. I can't quite believe the effect of seeing them all together in the galleries. At 7pm I give a private tour for the patrons of the Royal Academy and we have dinner afterwards.


I do non-stop interviews from 9am till 2pm before the opening reception. It's a very buzzy evening with many friends and colleagues attending. The response to the show is very positive and there is a general sense of enjoyment and excitement. We then have a very elegant dinner held at the academy for sponsors, trustees and people who have lent their pieces from their private collections for the show.


In the morning I do a private tour for Sotheby's followed by coffee with a director of a Swiss museum who'd lent a very important painting for the show. I have dinner with a colleague and a curator from the National Gallery of Oslo who'd lent three fabulous drawings to the exhibition. There are about 25 works in the show that come from private collections. It's often hard to convince people to part with them. My challenge as curator was firstly to track down the works and secondly to persuade people to lend them. People were convinced by the idea for this exhibition. It wasn't just any old Van Gogh show: it would really contribute to our understanding of the artist.


I meet two scholars from the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam who helped me quite a bit with the exhibition and we spend a couple of hours looking at the pieces with a very technical view. Afterwards I speak briefly at a reception held for the exhibition's sponsors. I then have dinner with a friend from New York at Harry's Bar.


I have lunch with someone about an exhibition I'm working on for Sargent later this year and then give a lecture about the Van Gogh exhibition to school teachers in the evening. It was suggested by our friends in Amsterdam to do an exhibition based on the letters. They reveal a very different artist and man to that of the troubled genius of popular myth. They reveal a highly educated and intelligent man who wrote beautifully. Seeing it all come together this week as a tangible thing has been terribly exciting.

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