Art Abroad #3: Jonathan Watkins on defining this period of art


“The art world is becoming arguably much more interesting now as a result of these kinds of developments,” says curator and gallery director Jonathan Watkins in the third episode of Art Abroad. “I’m certainly not a lone voice, there are a lot of people challenging these fundamental assumptions about what we’re dealing with and why we’re dealing with it.”

While Art Abroad focusses on those involved in art who moved from Australia and ended up in London, Watkins is the director of the renowned Ikon gallery in Birmingham, two hours outside of London.

Born in the UK, at age 12 Watkins came to Australia with his parents. He studied art history in Sydney, and eventually moved back to London in the 1980s, holding curatorial roles at Chisenhale and Serpentine galleries.

In 1999 he became director of Ikon, a role he’s held for 23 years. Started in the 1960s, Ikon is a gallery that at once gives accessible and challenging notions of contemporary art. In an interesting link to Australia, Jonathan’s predecessor in the role was none other than Elizabeth Ann MacGregor.

However, after two decades at the gallery, Jonathan will be stepping down next month. We talk about this, as well as his moves to and from the UK, and the international outlook of his practice. He was the artistic director of the Biennale of Sydney in 1998, then headed the Tate Triennial in 2003, and the Shanghai Biennale in 2006—and that’s just to name a few.

Finally, Watkins talks about making contemporary art accessible while not reducing its potency, and what will define this current period of art.

This series is kindly sponsored by Leonard Joel Auctioneers and Valuers, based in Melbourne and Sydney.

Produced and presented by Tiarney Miekus, engineering by Patrick Telfer, and music by Mino Peric.

Podcast Words by Tiarney Miekus