installation shot of the Albert Adams exhibition in the Clifford Whitworth library.

‘Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination’ exhibition, Photography by Yanxi Wu.

Fascinating challenges, extraordinary discoveries: My first curatorial experience

Our Albert Adams project curatorial assistant, PhD student Yanxi Wu, reflects on the fascinating challenges and extraordinary discoveries on her first curatorial experience in the UK.

My connection to the Art Collection Team goes back to November 2019 when I first met Lindsay Taylor, the curator of the University of Salford Art Collection at the ‘Art and Design Education: Future Lab’ event in Shanghai. I talked to her about my desire to become a curator and that I was interested in studying in the UK. Despite the global epidemic, I still wanted to begin my doctoral studies at the University of Salford in September 2020. I was delighted when I met Lindsay again, and very happy when I successfully applied for the position of curatorial assistant in the Albert Adams project in 2022.

Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination exhibition in the Clifford Whitworth library, Photography by Yanxi Wu.  

My role has involved researching and writing about the artist, his works, and related topics; liaising with invited speakers and general support in the preparation and running of the online symposium Albert Adams: In Context on 9 March; joining the anti-racist reading group in the Albert Adams Room on 26 April; contacting Alexandra Mitchell, the archivist of University of Salford, to find Student Union newspapers about South Africa Apartheid and arranging the loan of these to the exhibition; and, assisting exhibition curation and installation in the Clifford Whitworth library on 7 June. In addition, I have created a virtual exhibition about Adams which was made available to the students at an employability event at Media City on 25May; it was also be demonstrated to the Salford City College students and the general public on 10 June at the Cheltenham Scientist Festival 2022.    

Yanxi Wu gave a presentation of Albert Adams’ online exhibition at an employability event, Photography by Andrea Stein at Media City.

I have felt very lucky to be able to curate an exhibition about Albert Adams. I was impressed the first time I saw his work. Delving into the history of the Expressionist Art Movement, South Africa Apartheid, and the biography of Albert Adams broadened my horizons about the way in which art crosses borders.    

Yanxi Wu with the introduction of Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination exhibition, Photography by Andrea Stein.

In the Albert Adams project, I began to learn how to successfully curate an art exhibition. First, I needed to consider how to select suitable and representative works. After sifting through the university collection of his works, I came up with three themes: The Portrait, The Ape Series and The Prisoner Series. I reached the conclusion during this work that the curator is a bridge linking the artist and the audience. An eye-catching exhibition must have distinct artistic themes, which can trigger social discussion and stimulate people’s thinking. These themes reveal not only Adams’ technical, stylistic, and psychological development, but also his constant resistance to violence, injustice, and repression.  

Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination exhibition, Photography by Yanxi Wu.

Second, the process of planning an exhibition is comparable to the creation of a work of art. To arrange the exhibition site, I needed to consider the dialogue between the space and the audience. How are visitors likely to move around the space? How can I use this to control the order in which the works are seen in order to design a narrative? How can I plan to hang artworks with different sizes, frames, and shapes? All these considerations make a big difference in the quality of the exhibition. I also needed to become a translator, taking something which is primarily visual and putting it into words. I feel it is my task to awaken the audience’s interest and emotions towards the themes which were so important to Albert Adams.  

Display case from the Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination exhibition, Photography by Yanxi Wu.

As a PhD student, furthermore, studying the possibility of online exhibitions for transnational cultural promotion, this project has given me an opportunity to explore online platforms. The virtual exhibition of Albert Adams I have designed compensates for the lack of physical space available for the display of Adams’ works. After visiting the physical exhibition, visitors can enter the virtual space to explore further the artist’s works.  

Albert Adams: Fantastic Imagination online exhibition on Spatial platform, Photography by Andrea Stein at an employability event at Media City. 

Finally, I want to take this opportunity to thank the Art Collection Team (Assistant Curator Stephanie Fletcher, Graduate Associate Rowan Pritchard, Digital Content and Engagement Officer Alistair Small) very much for their support. I am grateful to have had such a remarkable and unforgettable experience.  


Yanxi Wu 

July 2022 

Supported by the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art and by a donor funded Salford Advantage Grant.  

The Albert Adams collection is presented by Edward Glennon through the Art Fund.