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Meet the curators shaping Hull’s visual arts scene – Kirsten Simister

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.

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

Undoubtedly the crowning glory of Hull’s galleries, the Ferens is the longest-established art space in the city. Its collection includes art from the 14th century to the present day, including European Old Masters, portraiture, marine painting, modern and contemporary British art, and masterpieces by Lorenzetti, Frans Hals, Antonio Canaletto, Helen Chadwick and Gillian Wearing.

Here, record-breaking visitor numbers are regularly achieved by touring exhibitions. Under Kirsten Simister’s tenure as curator, these have included work by David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Leonardo Da Vinci, SKIN which included Spencer Tunick’s Sea of Hull and Ron Mueck’s sculptures, the 2017 Turner Prize and the current Clangers, Bagpuss & Co exhibition, which runs until 29 July. In 2017, more than half a million visitors came through the doors at the Ferens, a 309% increase on 2014, the last full year the gallery was open before its 2015-2017 renovation.

Before joining the Ferens team in 2003, Kirsten was the first curator at the award-winning Fergusson Gallery in Perth, Scotland.

Kirsten says: “When people come and visit the Ferens, even national directors, they’re really taken with the quality of the permanent collection. I remember coming for my job interview and seeing the Wyndham Lewis portrait. I couldn’t believe it was here. I was blown away.

“We’ve been building national partnerships for many years, with the Tate and National Galleries of Scotland through ARTIST ROOMS on tour, the British Museum, the Royal Collection Trust and The Courtauld Gallery, to name but a few.

“Current loans include Paul Cézanne’s iconic Card Players (1892-6) in partnership with The Courtauld Gallery, which is here until 9 September, and Van Dyck’s famous triple portrait, Charles 1 (1600-1649), from the Royal Collection Trust, until 29 July.

“From 30 June to 30 September, we’ll be showing Portrait Of The Artist: Käthe Kollwitz, thanks to a loan of 36 works from the British Museum’s collection, and two pieces from a private lender. Kollwitz was one of the leading German artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Her prints and drawings are very expressive and she’s a brilliant graphic artist who made powerful portrayals of women and the working-classes.

“The Ferens is also distinguished by its purchasing fund, the Ferens Endowment Fund, which enabled us to acquire the Pietro Lorenzetti’s rare gold-ground panel Christ Between Saints Paul and Peter (c. 1320). The fund supports the development of the collection, sometimes in a spectacular way. The Lorenzetti, for example, is a transformational object. The purchase has unlocked research and staffing opportunities for the gallery and raised the national profile of the gallery and the city. It’s been an amazing privilege to work on the project – as it is on a daily basis with the Ferens collection – I am incredibly lucky.

“For me, it’s very important to be extra careful with acquisitions – storage space is always at a premium – so additions need to bring something that makes a real impact on visitors.”

Meet 

John Heffernan, senior curator, Humber Street Gallery, Hull.

John Bernasconi, director, University of Hull Art Collection.

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