Celebrating 30 years of Tate Liverpool

PUBLISHED: 10:47 28 March 2018 | UPDATED: 10:47 28 March 2018

Summer of Love painting room at Tate Liverpool 2017

Summer of Love painting room at Tate Liverpool 2017

in caption

As Tate Liverpool marks its 30th anniversary, Rebekka O’Grady speaks to art handler Ken Simon about life at the gallery since 1988

Antony Gormley's Glider is craned into the third floor at Tate Liverpool in 1993Antony Gormley's Glider is craned into the third floor at Tate Liverpool in 1993

For many of us as we stroll around an art gallery such as the Tate Liverpool, we admire the work but little thought goes into how it actually got there. However for art handling manager Ken Simon, he has spent the last three decades entrusted with all of the masterpieces that have entered the gallery since it opened in the city’s Albert Dock in 1988.

During this time the gallery has established itself as the most visited modern and contemporary art gallery outside of London, with 18 million visitors enjoying the international exhibitions and collection displays programme, all of which have been hung by Ken. His role is one very much unseen by visitors, but is certainly a crucial one, ensuring these celebrated works of art reach the gallery walls in perfect condition.

[no title] by Anish Kapoor, 1998 [credit: Tate Liverpool][no title] by Anish Kapoor, 1998 [credit: Tate Liverpool]

‘It’s overcoming the challenges and problems – that’s what I find exciting,’ said Ken, who has worked with the Tate for 43 years. He came to the gallery in London from is hometown of Scunthorpe in the 1970s, working in the capital for 13 years before moving back up north with the opening of the Liverpool site.

‘You’re dealing with delicate, fragile pieces. Contemporary art can be quite challenging! I remember an early exhibition with Anthony Gormley in 1993; he had one piece called Vehicle which was a full size glider made from wood and lead. It was in three pieces and we had to take a window out of the third floor and crane it into the gallery. It’s all about planning and logistics.’

Art handling team with a Mark Rothko piece in 1988 (credit: Roger Sinek)Art handling team with a Mark Rothko piece in 1988 (credit: Roger Sinek)

After an exciting 30 years of working at the Liverpool gallery, Ken retired from his duties last September. However the art handler isn’t leading a life of relaxation just yet, but rather stepping into the spotlight. As part of Tate Liverpool’s 30th anniversary celebrations, the gallery is presenting a once-in-a-lifetime exhibition of 30 artworks from their collection which have been curated and conceived by Ken.

Ken’s Show: Exploring the Unseen launches on March 30 and will run until June 17 in the ground floor Wolfson Gallery. The exhibition will include some of his favourite artworks – many of which he has previously installed in the galleries.

Light Red Over Black by Mark Rothko, 1957 [credit: Tate Liverpool]Light Red Over Black by Mark Rothko, 1957 [credit: Tate Liverpool]

‘To me personally, modern art is about exploring the world in which we live in, and my show will do that. Artists cover this idea in different ways,’ says Ken. Together the works in his exhibition will explore the unseen or mysterious spaces in our world and point to Ken’s particular interest in sculptural and landscape art.

‘It’s an amazing opportunity to display some of my favourite works from the Tate collection after so many years getting to know them personally. The show has been two years in the making and I am excited for people to see it. Someone at the gallery said when they heard I was retiring that they needed to come up with a legacy for me and my work at the Tate. I’ve never seen it in that way. If anything it’s an honour for me to be able to do this; it’s the first time a non-curator has worked on a show like this. I’ve had immense support.’

Within by Phillip King, 1978-9 [credit: Tate Liverpool]Within by Phillip King, 1978-9 [credit: Tate Liverpool]

Key works in the show will include Figure (Nanjizal) 1958 by Barbara Hepworth, Mark Rothko’s Light Red Over Black 1957 – which was part of one of the first exhibitions at Tate Liverpool in 1988 – and Snow Storm: Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth 1842 by J.M.W. Turner. During the week after the opening visitors will also have a chance to chat with Ken and other art handlers thanks to the Tate Exchange. People will be able to come in and ask questions about the exhibition, Ken’s work and get a behind the scenes look at what it means to be an art handler.

‘There are lots of great things coming up this year, and even though I am retired I will always come along to see the new exhibitions. I hope that going forward the gallery continues to evolve and develop like it has done over the past 30 years,’ said Ken. The Tate’s 30th anniversary also coincides with Liverpool’s 10th anniversary of being European Capital of Culture.

‘Someone asked me what they thought Tate Liverpool had brought to the city and I think we have been part of something really important. Over the past three decades Liverpool has become a hub for culture and academia and it’s brilliant to have been a central part of that.’


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