Curating Stanley Lench
My name is Rebecca Lodge, I was invited by the museum to curate an exhibition on the artist Stanley Lench (1934-2000). I have been working in the museum sector for 10 years, largely in historic buildings with collections and in museums of health and medicine. I worked at the museum here for almost 3 years as its Registrar, which involved documenting and facilitating loans and new acquisitions and assisting with exhibition curation, when the museum was based on its old site.
It has been a really enjoyable experience for me to be able to revisit the museum’s amazing collection and curate an exhibition in the wonderful new space in the old Administration Building. I feel particularly invested in Stanley Lench’s work because I had the unique experience of listening to him discuss it himself, as well as his life and influences, via an interview that was recorded between Lench and his friend David Trowbridge in 1990, and is now part of the museum collection (on tape!) This interview formed the basis of a much smaller Stanley Lench exhibition that I curated in the old Bethlem Gallery in 2013, in my role as Registrar.
I work part-time at Burgh House in Hampstead, and care for my young daughter the rest of the week, so I curated the exhibition remotely, going back through my notes and the transcript of the interview to pull themes together that would explore Lench’s work and life through the museum’s collection of his work. I decided to call the exhibition Scaling the Citadel, as Stanley Lench described succeeding in the art world as ‘Scaling the Citadel of Art.’ The title conveys the difficulties Lench experienced with mental ill health throughout his life, which had an impact on his artistic production. The exhibition explores his early life, and the themes that crop up frequently in his work, like the construction of appearances, mortality, and reflections on the art world. A design for a door panel that Lench created whilst a patient at Bethlem can be seen in the exhibition, as well as photographs of the artist at work in his studio, and some of his notes and sketches. Alongside the bright, bold gouache portraits that characterise his work, these objects help to build a context in which to view his art.
I came into the museum to assist with the exhibition’s installation, and it was quite moving to see all the artwork that I hadn’t seen in the flesh for 4 years or so!