Feature: Ken’s show, in Ken’s words

Ken Simons, Art Handling Manager at Tate Liverpool

Ken’s show, in Ken’s words

Tate Liverpool are celebrating turning 30 with an exhibition by their longest serving member of staff, Ken Simon’s. The exhibition is open now and sums up 30 years of one of the most significant galleries in the country. We went to interview Ken about the launch of his exhibition, but came back with this, in Ken’s words:

It was absolutely necessary to have the subtitle, Exploring the Unseen.

When I first was asked to do this exhibition, my remit was really just to choose works from the collection that were my favourites. You can imagine, there’s a vast range of works in the collection, and it was quite difficult pinning down the way I wanted to go, but I’ve always loved sculpture and landscape artwork, so I started out with Philip King’s Within, which is one of my favourite pieces to view and understand, but also to put together. As art handler that is my role, hands on work with sculpture.

I then began to realise that actually, the majority of the works I was interested in were really about artists exploring the unseen part of our world, like the spaces within sculptures. Barbara Hepworth is another sculptor who explored making holes in sculpture and understanding the exploration of those spaces, and what you could see through those spaces, and it’s also about not just physical space but also the spaces in our heads, our emotions. It’s something we’re beginning to become interested in through particle science as well. What’s actually there that we can’t actually see?

I’ve been at Tate Liverpool since ’88 when Tate opened here, and I was at the Tate in London for about twelve years before that. I got given a massive opportunity of being involved right from the scratch in a new gallery, which was really exciting, and was the first time a new gallery on this scale had been done for a long time.

The exciting thing about working here, is that we’ve always evolved and changed. Here, we opened with just two floors. The top floor, which is now our major exhibition space, didn’t open until ’92. One of the exciting things we did from the word go was deciding that we were going to put on major international art, and that has been really important for the Tate and for Liverpool.

Why I like being in the job, and what’s kept me in the job for thirty years isn’t just being involved in setting up exhibitions, working with artists, working with something new every three months, but also the whole organisation evolving over those years.

In the week following the opening, myself and the other art handlers are going to be talking to the public in the Tate Exchange space, with photographs about the shows and the artworks we’ve set up over the years; with catalogues; and plans; and models. We’ll be talking about the art handling that we do and how we set up shows, and I’ll be leading behind the scenes tours alongside the exhibition. It all links into showing the public the unseen.

When I was working at Tate in London, I took that job as a filling job, I didn’t really plan on staying there. I’d always been interested in art, but at that point I was just thinking of maybe going back to college and maybe doing art, and so I was a bit unsure of where I was going. When I joined, the Tate was beginning to change. They developed the London gallery, built the Turner Gallery, and then Liverpool came along. And since, we’ve evolved, and my interest in contemporary art grew over that period. Retiring now is a major change in my life, and in some ways I’m going to miss all that, working with contemporary art and artists, but at the same time I’m developing my own thoughts, and I’ve learned a lot through doing this show myself.


Ken’s show, and accompanying events, including tours and talks, run at Tate Liverpool from 30th March -17th June

Details are in the What’s On section, and can be found at www.tate.org.uk/whats-on