Behind the scenes – Louise Hearman at QUT Art Museum

By Jessica Enkera/ QUT Art Museum/Visual Arts
Renowned Australian contemporary artist Louise Hearman, winner of the 2016 Archibald Prize, is best known for her ambiguous and surreal paintings of scenarios where things may, or may not be, as they seem.

Spectral suggestions of figures, animals, people and places form Hearman’s subject matter.

The artist presents a series of displaced ‘clues’; a disembodied head floating against a dark background, a mysterious spinning globe above a bush walkway, a road leading into darkness.

We are left to come to our own conclusions about the meanings of the affective visual experiences the paintings offer us.

Hearman’s work is currently featured in the touring exhibition Louise Hearman. This is the first major survey show of the artist’s 25-year practice, and is curated by Anna Davis from Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). This exhibition was first shown at MCA before travelling to TarraWarra Museum of Art in Melbourne. QUT Art Museum is the exhibition’s third and final destination, showing from 3 June – 6 August 2017.

During my internship at the Art Museum I assisted with this exhibition, and gained insights into the curatorial processes involved through discussing the touring show with the team, including interviewing QUT Art Museum Curator Kevin Wilson.

Kevin Wilson, QUT Art Museum Curator. Image © Joe Ruckli.

As a touring show, the works in the exhibition Louise Hearman, were selected by curator Anna Davis before arriving at QUT Art Museum. Davis travelled with the exhibition and worked collaboratively with Art Museum curator Kevin Wilson and Museum staff to produce the QUT Art Museum iteration.

I interviewed Wilson about the unique curatorial processes involved in securing and implementing a touring exhibition.

“A touring show is when another museum or gallery has developed an exhibition that they put on the road,” Wilson explains.

“It is quite a complex project. In the case of a larger institution like MCA or National Gallery of Australia, they obviously have the resources to present substantial exhibitions that are attractive to other smaller museums and galleries,” he said.

Louise Hearman | Capturing Light from QUT Art Museum on Vimeo.

QUT Art Museum is a favourable candidate for touring exhibitions due to its location in Queensland’s capital city, climate controlled facilities and experienced staff. The Museum communicates with major and smaller galleries, and touring shows are advertised through these communications.

“In the case of the Louise Hearman show, QUT Art Museum receives regular information from MCA about their tours and has taken one show already (Primavera)… Also, QUT Art museum has a focus on showing key surveys of Australian women artists,” Wilson said.

“MCA is also aware of our interest in female solo survey shows so there was a great deal of discussion between staff of both organisations around taking the show.”

L–R: Shinae Stowe, MCA Touring Exhibitions Manager, Artist Louise Hearman, Anna Davis, MCA Curator and Kevin Wilson, QUT Art Museum Curator. Image © Joe Ruckli.

This exhibition contains more than 50 oil paintings on masonite and a selection of works on paper. Exhibition curator Anna Davis has described arranging the works as being led by feeling.

“It’s a really feeling based, emotional show. Everything was chosen based on intuition and so from really early on I thought that’s how we should arrange the show as well, and of course Louise was really open to that. We just felt our way through. I was clustering things by moods and atmospheres and feelings,” Davis explained in an ArtsHub article by Brooke Boland1.

Arranging works intuitively also means hanging works slightly differently in each space. As a result, each exhibition will look and feel different to the next, due to the unique qualities of each venue.

“We’ve done it slightly differently for each iteration, so at the MCA and then it was at TarraWarra Museum, and now coming to Brisbane, it will be slightly different each time, which is quite exciting,” Davis told ArtsHub.1

Davis’ curatorial premise mirrors the artist’s intuitive art making processes. Hearman photographs imagery from her everyday experiences and synthesises elements of her photographs in unsettling compositions, based on her feelings towards the subject matter.

Generic titles and the lack of written explanation about Hearman’s work encourage viewers of her work to form ideas about its meaning based on subjective responses.

Davis directed the modification of the gallery space and installation of works in consultation with QUT Art Museum staff. The locations of the over 50 artworks were partly determined before their installation, and the physical setup entailed much fine tuning.

“the physical setup entailed much fine tuning.”

Davis thoughtfully positioned works in the museum space, and once they were in place Hearman meticulously adjusted the lighting on each work to her preference.

When discussing turning the planned exhibition arrangement into reality, Wilson noted that three-dimensional modelling tools proved difficult to use with QUT Art Museum’s space due to the Museum’s spatial intricacies.

“In the end, Anna had some areas worked out ready to go but many of the spaces presented her with some difficulty and she spent a lot longer moving works around… the curator is like an artist in determining arrangements on the gallery canvas and it has to be right,” Wilson said.

The Honorable Quentin Bryce AD CVO with Louise Hearman. Image © Joe Ruckli.

The Museum space is divided loosely by separating walls, and lined by structural pillars. These structures influence sight lines and make it difficult to clearly perceive spatial links between works, unless one is physically there.

“Through this process l think Anna realised one of the advantages of our space which is to provide a number of interesting site lines from room to room and this allowed for some interesting connections between works and a sense of narrative to the exhibition,” Wilson said .

Hearman likes her works to be treated equally, and this is exemplified in the similar sizes of her paintings and the way she titles each one. A lack of differentiation in size prevents her works from being divided into major and minor works, thus unifying them as a larger whole.

Davis’ feeling-based narrative approach further consolidates the strong body of work, and sensitively portrays Hearman’s extensive investigation and reiteration of distinctive techniques, themes and motifs.

The curatorial team. Image © Joe Ruckli

Assisting with Louise Hearman has allowed me unique insight into the curatorial processes behind securing and delivering this touring show. Observing and partaking in setup, even through small tasks such as placing labels on walls and cutting pieces of protective plastic for the artist’s personal objects for display, has been a valuable experience for me as an aspiring arts worker.

This show has presented unique challenges to curators and Museum staff as a touring exhibition that needs to respond to the Museum’s architecture, while remaining true to curatorial premise and Hearman’s artistic vision.


[1] Boland B. Hung by feeling – doing it Louise Hearman’s way. ArtsHub [Internet]. 2017 May 29 [cited 2017 June 8]. Available from:

About the author

Jessica Enkera successfully applied for an internship placement at QUT Art Museum and William Robinson Gallery through QUT’s WIL (Work Integrated Learning) program. Throughout her internship during semester one, Jessica worked across the areas of curatorial, collection and public programs management.

Interning at the QUT Art Museum and William Robinson Gallery is open to QUT students only and the program is highly respected within the broader arts community, with candidates leaving with up-to-date knowledge of best practice in the sector.

Jessica is a practising artist and currently studying a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Visual Arts major) at QUT, which she will complete in 2017. She has also been part of the executive team for Post Datum, a QUT Visual Arts Collective. Jessica is continuing to build her professional career in the visual arts sector, with the aspiration to have an active arts practice and work with exhibitions within an arts organisation context.