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From students to curators: an exhibition on the value of art


Postgraduate students from the University of Leeds have launched their exhibition The Value of the Unknown, an online display that will question and show art from unknown artists.

Working from the open access provided by the Getty Museum collection, students have worked together to showcase unknown pieces — encouraging viewers to question why certain art has more value than others and show that big names do not always make for statement pieces.

The history of objects is important in the art world as it shows the authenticity of the object, and more economic value is attached to objects whose history can be traced back to its maker. However, this means many pieces of art with an incomplete history are often hidden away in archives or in back rooms as they are missing the information that would lead to their value being increased.

The exhibition aims to challenge this way of thinking and puts a spotlight on unknown artists work for audiences to simply enjoy.

The students are all studying on MA programmes in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies. For most, this is their first attempt at being curators and so collaborating as a group was key to making this exhibition a success. Learning as you go can often be hard, but this project has been a good indicator of what would be expected of them if they were to work within a creative industry.

Creating big ideas

The experience of curating an exhibition forms part of an Interpretations module in the first term of the course. Students were given a broad theme of ‘provenance’ and had the freedom to decide what ‘big idea’ they would come up with and what objects they would choose. As a group, the first thing that they agreed on was the idea of going against the theme they were assigned.

Portrait Head of Augustus, Roman Empire, 25–1 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum.

Portrait Head of Augustus, Roman Empire, 25–1 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum, object no. 78.AA.261.

MA Art Gallery and Museum Studies Maria Navarro said:

"We were thinking of big ideas and how we could be on theme, but then we thought what if we show that the lack of provenance does not mean these objects lose value, but they just have it in other ways? Such as how they can still us tell stories or have importance through the special techniques used to make them."

Deciding upon this idea formed the foundation for their whole project and brought the group together as they could work together for this common goal. This opportunity has also given students the ability to partake in discussions around questioning the art canon and why we are taught to value art in particular ways.

MA Arts Management and Heritage Studies student Katie Starr said of partaking in the process of curating the exhibition:

"It has enabled me to get the skills I will need to go on to work in the arts sector. I am very excited for people to see what we have come up with.”

The Value of the Unknown went live on Monday 6 December and will be available until 6 March 2022.

Visit the online exhibition

Find the exhibition on Instagram: @Gettyunknown

If you would like to access the Getty Collection to take a look for yourself, you can do so by following this link.

Feature image

Adapted from Portrait Head of Augustus, Roman Empire, 25–1 B.C. The J. Paul Getty Museum, object no. 78.AA.261.