Interview: Air Miles with Caroline Corbeau-Parsons

1 Dec 2019 by Hannah Brandler

Caroline Corbeau-Parsons is a curator of British art 1850-1915 at Tate Britain.

What attracted you to the profession?

The prospect of being in daily contact with world-class artworks. Not images, but actual objects, which is an altogether different experience. And creating the exhibitions, of course. It is not necessarily as glamorous as people imagine, and it is a lot of hard work, but it is also extremely rewarding.

Is it difficult to travel with fragile works of art?

Tate curators rarely courier artworks, conservators tend to when a courier is needed. As you would expect, we only use the best specialist transporters so there is no room for disaster, thankfully!

Have your travels inspired the layout and design of exhibitions?

Yes, absolutely. When your work is quintessentially visual, galleries, museums, exhibitions, but also public spaces, shops or concept stores can be an inspiration. There are trends for wall colours for exhibitions which can change from country to country, just like there are for interior decoration and design, but finding a palette that will set out the works should come first.

What has been the most rewarding experience when travelling for work?

Probably when Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 travelled to Petit Palais in Paris in June last year. I had planned the exhibition for over three years and felt very invested in it, so it felt so special to bring the experience of refugee artists home, so to speak, in the most amazing architecture of Petit Palais. When an exhibition travels, it gives it a new lease of life.

How do you choose a location for an exhibition?

It all depends on the exhibition. We usually collaborate with museums where it will be particularly meaningful for the exhibition to travel, either because of the nationality of the artist, or because their collection complements that of Tate, for instance.

Favourite gallery abroad?

It’s impossible to choose only one! But being French, and a 19th-century specialist, the Musée d’Orsay played an important part in my education.

Which exhibition has required the most extensive research?

All exhibitions at the Tate are grounded in research, and Aubrey Beardsley, which opens on March 4 and will be the largest show of his original drawings since 1966, springs to mind, not least because I am starting to write the room panels and wall labels for the 200+ works in the show. But Impressionists in London: French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 was a labour of love, and researching the networks formed by those artists who took refuge in London during the Franco-Prussian war was fascinating and all-consuming.

Which piece of art has left a lasting impression?

Again, it is impossible to single one out, but on a recent trip to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, I spent almost half an hour studying one of Beardsley’s most intricate drawings, The Cave of Spleen, and I am still transfixed by it. I cannot wait to have it up on the wall at Tate Britain for the exhibition. I am sure I still have to discover lots of hidden details in it. It is no coincidence Beardsley was such an influence on the psychedelic movement, even though he died in 1898, aged only twenty-five.

What's your dream destination?

Anywhere in Italy, but at the moment I miss New York, and am very curious to see the expansion of the MoMA.

What's your in-flight entertainment pick?

It sounds very boring, but I usually work on planes. I tend to read art history books or catalogues, and travel with them too (despite their weight!), so reading a novel is a rare treat. Last time I travelled to Toronto, though, I did not miss the opportunity to watch Quebecois independent movies.

What are your indispensable travel gadgets?

A USB cable, silicon earplugs and a big cashmere shawl.

Aubrey Beardsley is at Tate Britain, London from March 4 – May 25, 2020.

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