The Wick - Interview Art Historian Jo Baring  The Wick - Interview Art Historian Jo Baring 
Monday Muse

Interview Art Historian Jo Baring 

Jo Baring
03 October 2022
Jo Baring
03 October 2022
A podcaster, curator and sought-after arts speaker, there isn’t much Jo Baring can’t turn her hand to.

A former director of Christie’s UK, Baring is currently the director of The Ingram Collection of Modern British and Contemporary Art, one of the UK’s leading art collections. As well as being an expert in 20th century and contemporary art, sculpture, and the art market, Baring is passionate about increasing access to art. In 2016, she set up The Ingram Prize, a contemporary art prize that celebrates and supports artists at the start of their careers.

In 2020, she also released Sculpting Lives, her critically acclaimed first podcast series. Considered as one of the best arts podcasts to listen to by the Royal Academy of Arts, The Guardian and Evening Standard, each 45-minute episode takes a woman sculptor as its subject.

Here, we discuss her latest project – she has edited a major new book called Revisiting Modern British Art – ahead of its release on October 10.

THE WICK:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

Jo Barring:   I’m doing a talk on ‘The Muse in Art’ at Cheltenham Literature Festival, so the idea of muses is on my mind. I’m reading about the artist Leonora Carrington at the moment. When she was asked how she felt about being a teenage muse to the Surrealists in the 1930s, she replied, “I didn’t have time to be anyone’s muse. I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist”. The art world is full of fabulous muses. Someone I respect very much is my Sculpting Lives co-host and co-writer Sarah Victoria Turner, the deputy director of the Paul Mellon Centre. She is wonderful to work with – generous in spirit, intelligent, joyous and collaborative.

TW:   Tell us about The Ingram Collection and what inspired you to start The Ingram Prize?

JB:   The Ingram Collection is one of the UK’s most significant collections of Modern British art. We are passionate about making the collection accessible to all, enabling visitors to see some of the finest examples of Modern British art. I set up The Ingram Prize in 2016 to support artists by offering exhibitions, residencies and a solo show at the Art Fund Prize-winning gallery and museum The Lightbox, among other opportunities. I feel very proud of all the wonderful artists who have been involved in the prize. This year is particularly exciting because our 2017 winner, Sin Wai Kin, has been nominated for the 2022 Turner Prize.

TW:   What does more access to art look like to you?

JB:   For me, this starts with school children. We do a lot of work with The Lightbox museum and art gallery in Woking, and the education team there do a fantastic job engaging local school children with the collection. I also supported the Art UK programme of bringing masterpieces into schools. We brought a Paolozzi sculpture from The Ingram Collection into a local secondary school and held workshops with the students there. In my opinion, the education and outreach teams at our museums and galleries are just as important as the curatorial side.

TW:   What industry development do you think is increasing access to art?

JB:   I was thrilled to learn that The National Gallery are making some tickets to the new Lucian Freud show £1. I have long felt that blockbuster exhibition ticket prices of around £20 per person are prohibitive and exclusive.

“In my opinion, the education and outreach teams at our museums and galleries are just as important as the curatorial side.”

TW:   What is the most helpful piece of advice you’ve been given or have learnt in your career?

JB:   If there is someone you want to meet, go and introduce yourself. As a younger person starting out in the art world, I wouldn’t have dreamt of doing that, I felt I was far too shy, but now I realise how helpful it is when people do that. If an artist or curator comes and introduces themselves to me, it is fantastic. I am never not pleased to chat all things art and meet new people.

TW:   What are your top tips for artists looking to get ahead?

JB:   It’s always the simple things – if you are applying for a prize or residency, read the brief. So many people don’t and I get incomplete or ineligible applications which I can’t take forward. If unsure, please ask. We are here to help and welcome a chat. And make the most of your connections – I love keeping in touch with artists who have been involved in the prize; writing references, giving advice and helping them with funding applications.

TW:   Which artist or artwork did you have a new perspective on after editing your new book, Revisiting Modern British Art?

JB:   Part of the reason for the book is to throw a light on the stories that we don’t know, those artists who aren’t household names, and to unearth new narratives and ask different questions about our art history. Pauline Boty (1938-1966) is still a chronically underrated artist. She was a Pop Art painter before the term even existed. She was one of four painters (and the only woman) to be included in the 1961 exhibition that is considered to be the first Pop Art show. She was also included in the BBC programme Pop goes the Easel alongside artists such as Peter Blake. She died at only 28 and if she had lived longer, she would certainly be as well-known as Blake and Bridget Riley.

TW:   What’s your favourite modern British work?

JB:   That’s such a hard question. I don’t have a favourite but I do love Elisabeth Frink (1930-1993). Her work was acquired by Tate when she was only 22, and still an art student. She experienced great early success, such early recognition, but towards the end of her career she said: “I do think in contemporary art terms I’m an outsider”. I find it fascinating that she stuck to her beliefs; her conviction in figuration rather than abstraction, and bronze when other artists were experimenting with new materials. There have been some great shows recently that reassess her contribution, and I look forward to more.

TW:   Frieze is coming up. Which designers will be your go-to looks for the gallery events and book launches?

JB:   I don’t wear designer clothes (although if I could do a supermarket sweep of Roksanda that would be the dream!). I wore a green trouser suit from Zara to an event at the Saatchi Gallery recently and so many people asked me where it was from. We were joking that Frieze will be full of us all wearing it. If you see lots of people in a well-cut green suit, you’ll know why…

TW:   Where in London is your favourite culturally curious space?

JB:   I find the Thames eternally culturally curious. I live near the river and walk along it most days. Old Georgian houses full of history, misty mornings that make you feel like you are walking in a Whistler – it’s always inspiring. So many artists lived near my patch of the river, including one of my favourites, Eric Ravilious, and I love searching out their paintings and comparing them to the current views.

TW:   On a desert island what would be your book, artwork and song of choice?

JB:   Instead of those items, I would bring my two children, and my little black pug, Steve.

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