Director of Coventry Biennial of Contempoary Art Ryan Hughes talks to Ollie Noble, who in March exhibited works in the central piazza of University of Warwick, the first exhibition he has ever curated.

We have come to expect expertise in a subject to develop through intensive academic engagement. In the case of contemporary art, this expertise is usually shaped through substantial periods of time in art schools and art history departments. There are other ways of building and developing expertise, ways which lead to very different understandings of a subject and therefore the contexts within which it operates.

Ollie Noble, a fourth year Maths and Physics student at University of Warwick has developed a level of expertise and confidence around contemporary art, not through these ordinary academic routes but through frequently visiting exhibitions and festivals as an audience member. He likes contemporary art. He tells me he has “never actually studied art, I always remember being told that I wasn’t allowed to do it because I was so terrible at it”

Ollie describes being dragged to galleries as a child by his parents where he admits they would spend more time in the cafe than actually looking at the art work, but he also describes how this early experience made him comfortable in gallery surroundings. Later he started visiting commercial galleries in London by himself, eager to engage with contemporary art. He started talking to people during these visits and before long, met artist Neal Jones whilst visiting his show at Southard Reid. Neal encouraged Ollie to try, artists of course being all too aware that learning often happens through doing.

Fast forward to March 2018 and out in the cold opens on the central piazza of University of Warwick, this is the first exhibition Ollie has curated, with no formal experience, but he has managed to garner the support of Mead Gallery and has attracted the participation of high-profile international practitioners including Taus Makhacheva and Enrique Ramírez whose work he discovered whilst visiting the Venice Biennale in 2017.

The exhibition presents a showreel of moving image works which he explains aimed to “take art out of gallery spaces, and directly to the viewers. The aim was to show great art to people from all backgrounds, from regular gallery goers through to people who have absolutely no interest in art”

This mirrors Arts Council Englands aim of ‘great art for everyone’ but attempts to deliver that on a hyperlocal, independant scale, without their support. Why? Because Ollie understands, first hand, the value of looking at art. He explains that he was delighted at how approachable the artists were, he goes on that he “had assumed they would all ignore me, but I emailed them, and amazingly they replied saying they would love to be part of the exhibition. I had the opportunity to include five incredible artists – Fred Bungay, Taus Makhacheva, Enrique Ramirez, Tsubusa Kato and Nayoung Jeong. From the outset I had quite a good idea of what I wanted. With the exhibition being focused on encouraging a new audience to engage with art, I decided that first and foremost it was all about finding sharp contemporary art that had a critical eye and a clear story to tell. Especially in the university environment, I thought it was important that the exhibition showed art that could tackle modern issues head on”.

Ollie tells me what a huge learning curve that this process has been for him, and he speaks very highly of the university environment being a space which encourages this kind of cross-disiplinary, extra-curricula activity. When I ask if he will be curating exhibitions again, he says that he has a few ideas floating about – but echos a concern I’m hearing from artists and curators across the UK, access to space is a real issue.

That being said, Ollie wants to increase diversity in the arts, grow new events inspired by Tate Lates, Digbeth First Friday and London’s Art Night which increase engagement with a wide range of cultural activities and he will “just wait to see who I bump into and what opportunities come up”

Following this exchange Ollie agreed to undertake a short Curatorial Internship with Coventry Biennial of Contemporary Art during which he will be working towards an exhibition and event at the end of Summer 2018.

out in the cold ran from 11-16 March 2018 in The University of Warwick’s central piazza.