How the London-based and performance-obsessed curator moves performance art from her spare room (Gallery Lejeune) to an all-across London affair this July, while still doing so much more.
On the spectrum between spontaneity and premeditation I am a huge planner! At the moment I am working on a summer project called Performance Exchange which involves twenty commercial galleries in London and three museums. I am doing a PhD, and I am working for the British Council on projects around international development for artists in the Middle East. Sadly, this doesn’t leave much room for spontaneity in my working life and I have had to learn how to switch between different ways of thinking.
I find pleasure in the structured rhythm of writing in the morning, and project managing or meetings in the afternoon, mixed with travel which gives a totally different structure to the day. That said, if I need a lie-in, I take it, or if I need to I go to gym classes in the middle of the day or need to go shopping in central London when it is quiet—I will. As a freelancer, it is important to exercise the freedom you have to shape your time…
My musical inspiration comes from either opera or country music. I am quite into baroque opera at the moment, and I try to go to the opera house as much as my budget will allow. The last couple of years I have made a trip to Longborough Festival Opera, close to where I grew up. It’s a pretty rarefied experience, very old white English upper class, but I try to go to see the more experimental emerging artists productions. It is a great opportunity for singers who have just graduated.
Of course living in London I try to go to the Royal Opera House, and actually if you are organised, you can get pretty cheap tickets. The most recent production I have seen there was La Calisto by Francesco Cavalli (1650s, this is fairly early for opera). It is actually probably one of my all time favourite.
Otherwise, I mostly listen to 1950s American country music but probably the less said about that the better… I have Patsy Cline on now, who mostly sings about heartbreak and being left by men, but it’s somehow joyous.
I imagine my ten-year older self visiting from the future, and they tell me: “Dont sweat it, you won’t even remember any of this in ten years!”.
My go-to piece of clothing depends on where I am. Because I find it such a clear-headed time, I often just grab a coffee and start working straight away in the morning. I confess that I spend much of my time working at home in a tracksuit or even in my pyjamas. Perhaps because of that, I try and be relatively smart when I leave the house and go to meetings, but I am not sure I have a go-to outfit. Smart white sneakers will cover most situations though.
My favourite piece of tech is that iPhone thing that tuns off all my apps at 10pm, so I can’t look at them anymore!
For years, I ran, and ran, and ran, it was the only way I stayed sane through my twenties and early thirties. I hurt my ankle about 5 years ago, got better, hurt it again, and then a friend gave me some amazing advice: “just because it worked in the past, doesn’t mean it will in the future”. It changed how I was looking at it, and I switched into something new. Right now I am going to a couple of spin classes a week, strength training class, and practice some pilates at home. I still run once or twice a week because I love being out in the parks of London no matter what the weather, but in general it’s just for the way exercise connects me to thinking in a different way. It’s the best thinking time there is. If I am stuck on something I’ll often come to the answer half way through a good workout… I might have forgotten it by the end, but I’ll be happy that I know there is an answer!
If I was an art collector I would collect performance art! Much of the work I have done in the last few years has been around expanding collections, and thinking about how the whole spectrum of contemporary art, including the difficult, the ephemeral, and the changeable bits, will become a part of art history. Tate and other museums have really lead the way in collecting this kind of art but I think it is fair to say that it is undeveloped in the market and there is an opportunity for someone to come along and create a world-call collection of performance with, relatively speaking, limited resources. Performance Exchange will do this by producing a detailed and clear acquisition document for each of the works in the programme.
We have some amazing artists onboard, including Helen Cammock at Kate McGarry (she just co-won the Turner Prize), and Paul Maheke at Goodman Gallery with Galerie Sultana (he was part of the 58th Venice Biennale performance programme last summer). We also have older generations of artists such as Anthony McCall showing “Five Minute Drawing” at Sprueth Magers, a live drawing with a string that was first performed at Art Meeting Place in London in 1974. He re-presented it at MoMA in 2010 saying : “This drawing is one of a number of works in which I explored the idea that the unfolding of the idea, the process of execution, is the object”. It’s amazing that this work is not part of a collection.
If I ever need to reset my mind I disappear on my own for a bit. I learned how to windsurf in Egypt, and gone hiking in the Pyrenees on my own. Also, a daily practice of writing, exercising, stretching, cooking, a glass of wine and bed in solitude, have formed the basis of some of my biggest life shifts.
The best way to know someone is to travel with them. You need to be in tune with their daily energy, how they travel, how much art they can take, what lunch should be, how much walking can be done, and when to have a martini. All those things tell you if you can fit into a flow with them—or if they drive you crazy!
The best way to know an artist is to work with them in a really stressful situation! One of my lifelong artist friends is Tai Shani. I first worked with her in 2010.The project involved my managing a team of forty artists and crew, over a ten-day installation period in a large muddy field. It involved carrying several times 100 kg parts back and forth across the field. It was always going to go one of two ways: either we would never speak again or be great friends. Fortunately, it all ended up as the latter!
The perfect meal with friends can happen eating out or entertaining at home, I love both. Over the last four years we hosted a lot of performances and dinners at home, as part of a gallery I was running called Gallery Lejeune. Luckily for me, my husband is a fantastic cook and he basically catered for all of them expertly. We had friends and colleagues who asked if they could come over to be cooked for by him (never mind the art). But the perfect evening is probably that, a meal cooked by B., good wine, and a few close friends.
The one guilty pleasure I can finally come clean about is…Oh no, not today!
My perfect holiday is staying in the UK. I travel so much for work, that recently I have tried to stay here for holidays. Last summer, we hired a cottage in Dorset, on the South coast of England, and walked more than ten miles a day for a week. It was gorgeous.
That said, I also love to go somewhere hot for Christmas. London is great in the summer, and I am lucky to live right across from a park so we spend a lot of time in there, but when it’s cold and raining and dark…few things beat an Indian beach, some fried fish, and a beer on Christmas day.
What drives me forward the most about curating is feeling like I am making a change in the field somehow. When you work as a freelance curator it can be quite difficult to think big, but I am lucky at the moment to be working with great collaborators. I am driven by those conversations which have pushed me to think larger and across the landscape of the market. We launched Performance Exchange publicly last November and it was a very nervous moment for me—putting such a new idea into the world is always a scary moment—but I have had nothing but positive feedback and encouragement from galleries large and small, as well as from museums and peers I really respect. That drives me to make sure I do that good will and trust justice. It also helps reinforce my inner conviction that this is the right time to be doing this project, to be asking these questions.
If I wasn’t curating I would be a lawyer, I like a good argument!
Rose Lejeune is a London-based curator and researcher exploring collecting contemporary art with a specific interest in commissioning context-based, social, and performative practices. In addition to regular writing and public speaking on these topics, she supports museums to broaden their collecting policy and is also the Associate Curator for the Delfina Foundation’s Collecting as Practice programme. Between 2015 and 2018 she ran Gallery Lejeune, a performance programme in her home.
Rose has a decade of extensive experience working with public organisations throughout the UK, and in particular working closely with artists to commission for non-gallery situations, including as Curator at Art on the Underground, and Education Projects Curator at the Serpentine Gallery. Rose holds a BA in Philosophy and Art History, and an MA in Curating Contemporary Art from the Royal College of Art. She is currently a PhD candidate in Curating at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, where her research focuses on curatorial frameworks for performance art in and out of the art market.