Staff spotlight: Mathew Norman

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Tuesday 23 October 2012
Amy Cooper

Mathew Norman is like a kid in a candy store. Only instead of sweet treats, the objects of his desire can be found in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection of historic works on paper.

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Mathew joined the Gallery in July as assistant curator. It’s not his first time on staff – in 2008 he was awarded a Marylyn Mayo internship and spent nine weeks researching a staggering 1,500 artworks.

Prior to joining the Gallery, Mathew worked in the print collection at the British Museum in London, where he received two prestigious scholarships. He’s also worked at Te Papa, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage and at the National Gallery of Ireland… and in a dairy factory.

Mathew is responsible for the international print collection, supporting Mary Kisler in her role as Senior Curator, Mackelvie Collection, International Art. He also facilitates visits to the Gallery’s print room and supervises students and visitors as they examine the artworks.

One of the biggest drawcards of the role for Mathew was access to the Gallery’s collection. “This is one of the three finest collections in New Zealand from an historical perspective – and we have a superb print collection with real depth, which makes it possible to produce exhibitions and scholarship of merit.”

The Gallery’s collection of more than 15,000 artworks contains a large number of objects by unknown artists. Mathew is undertaking research to help ‘fill in the gaps’, and has already had some success in identifying artists. At the end of October he’ll be presenting a talk about a seventeenth-century oil painting titled Battle Scene, which he believes he’s been able to attribute to a specific artist. “I’m awaiting the opinion of an expert in the Netherlands, but the evidence points to the artist I have identified,” he says.

On top of this, Mathew’s busy planning an exhibition called Travels with Mr Hollarwhich will open in early 2013. It will be the Gallery’s first large-scale exhibition of work by 17th century Bohemian artist Wenceslaus Hollar.

So how do curators put together an exhibition? “I get the impression people think we just dream up a list of objects and throw them up on the wall or onto plinths – of course it’s not that easy. There’s a huge amount of teasing out of the relationships between the works that has to be done. There has to be a rationale and it has to be obvious to visitors.”

Mathew says the best part of his job is the hands-on access to artworks. “I’m not a theoretician. I’m about the objects themselves,” he says. “I consider myself very lucky to be able to work with objects of real international significance.”

When he’s not poring over prints, Mathew enjoys cheese and baroque music, and is currently dreaming of setting up his own vegetable garden.