Naomi Polonsky has worked as the Art Assistant to the New Hall Art Collection during the period when Harriet Loffler, the Curator, was on maternity leave. It has been a formative time for Naomi and for the students of Murray Edwards College.
In 2017-18 Naomi had been studying at The Courtauld Institute in London on its prestigious MA course, Curating the Art Museum. August 2018 found her in Cambridge, where her family live, writing up a dissertation and wondering about job prospects. Her Tutor circulated an advertisement for the temporary post at the Collection. Having lived in Cambridge, Naomi knew the Collection well which made her an ideal candidate. She started in August 2018.
Naomi had always considered it to be a “unique collection, full of fantastic works”, but one of its great attractions for her is its eclectic nature. “Works by the very famous can hang next to those of unknown artists.” The Modernist building, with its white brick walls makes “a perfect backdrop” for modern and contemporary pieces. “The Collection is everywhere”, with art hung in the soaring domed dining hall, tucked into the workspaces in the Library, along the walkways and in the corridors and stairwells of the student accommodation. The Collection is rarely static. Naomi has found it exciting to see the different interplay between pieces as they are put in dialogue with other works. However, wherever an artwork hangs it is against white brick which Naomi feels is “understated and very egalitarian.”
Murray Edwards students literally live in this gallery: they eat, work, walk, study surrounded by art. (It can be taken for granted) Naomi wanted to engage them more closely. At a recent ‘Art’ Formal Hall, she gave an introduction to the paintings hanging in the dome. Students can now share that knowledge with their guests. When ‘Girl Talk’ a University feminist society asked to hold a pop-up exhibition of student works at Murray Edwards, the JCR was chosen for the display - it houses the most feminist painting in the Collection, by the Guerrilla Girls, Alexis Hunter and others. Over 100 people came to the opening night.
Naomi has recruited four student interns to work with her. She has found them “proactive with very creative ideas for communicating art”. The Breast Cancer Art Exhibition, celebrating Pink Week, was one venture.
The New Hall Art Collection can be seen every day, pick up a self-guided tour at the Porters’ Lodge. However, themed guided tours are offered on Sunday afternoons. A recent one – Behind the Scenes - was guided by two of the interns who took the group of visitors to see works hung in the corridors and staircases of the student’s accommodation, not usually open to public view.
Naomi has found the curatorial role “fascinating” and “demanding”. There is so much of the Collection on display, over 550 works, and the hang is dynamic. During Naomi’s time one of the major walkways has been rehung changing eight of the paintings, with two new acquisitions. There is a fast-paced exhibition calendar. Naomi arrived during the Reproductivities exhibition and a new exhibition of female artists from Hong Kong which opened on 8 March 2019. A piece of installation art for this was under construction as we spoke.
“I have loved my time working at New Hall Art Collection. There are so many wacky and wonderful artworks and I’m constantly finding out new things about them. One of the greatest pleasures for me is showing people around and hearing their responses to the works. Someone I showed around recently described Michelle Hungerford’s large-scale abstract painting, Rich Material II, as looking like a bowl of punch, which I thought was charming. The Collection makes Murray Edwards such a special place.”