Meet the curators shaping Hull’s visual arts scene – John Bernasconi

Hull’s art galleries have never been more popular. Already renowned in their fields, they thrived under the UK City of Culture spotlight, reporting increased footfall and unprecedented visitor numbers. One – Humber Street Gallery – opened as a pop-up for 2017 and is now a permanent fixture. But how are the people charged with shaping Hull’s visual arts scene now building on these successes? In this series we meet the curators of four of the city’s biggest art galleries to tell us more.

John Bernasconi, director, University of Hull Art Collection, Brynmor Jones Library, Cottingham Road, Hull. John specialises in Italian Renaissance art, teaches history of art and is the director of fine art at the university.

In 2017, the University of Hull Art Collection had a staggering 786% increase in visitor numbers on the previous year, with more than 55,000 people attracted by touring exhibitions such as The British Museum’s Lines of Thought and Larkin, New Eyes Each Year.

The gallery is also home to renowned permanent collection, Art in Britain, 1890-1940, described by Fred Hohler, chair of the Public Catalogue Foundation, as “a collection of breath-taking quality”. It includes works by Stanley Spencer, Lucien Pissarro, Sickert, Steer, Augustus John, Wyndham Lewis and Ben Nicholson, as well as sculpture by Epstein, Gill, Gaudier-Brzeska and Henry Moore. Bloomsbury Group artists are particularly well represented.

John says: “The collection will continue to strengthen its representation of its special period through acquisitions, and its public presence through loans. Together with an exciting exhibition programme, we seek to maintain and enhance our contact with the new friends we have made in 2017, and build on that great legacy. These will continue to play a distinctive and ever-more important role in the city’s visual art scene, and constitute one of the university’s major contributions to the cultural life of the city and region.

“Our current exhibition, Scottish Colourists from the Fleming Collection, provides a unique opportunity to see one of the largest collections of Scottish colourists in one exhibition. It features the four celebrated Scottish artists, Samuel Peploe, Francis Cadell, John Duncan Fergusson and Leslie Hunter who introduced the dramatic intense colours of French Impressionism and Fauvism into British art in the 1920s.

“In July and August, we will show work by professional artists of the London-based Society of Graphic Fine Art, shortly to celebrate its centenary. It will be followed by a special exhibition from the Science Museums Group for the British Science Festival being held in Hull.”


Kirsten Simister, curator, Ferens Art Gallery, Queen Victoria Square, Hull.

John Heffernan, senior curator, Humber Street Gallery, Hull

Kenn Taylor, creative director, Artlink Hull, Princes Avenue.