Lab 5 Bertram

14 Apr

I have been asked by the Somerset Art Gallery Trust (SAGT) to give a talk about my career in art galleries. The title alludes to Brian O’doherty’s 1976 essays for ‘Inside the White Cube – the Ideology of the Gallery Space’ first published in Art Forum, but I use his title solely to indicate my life in art galleries. I first worked in an art shop/gallery in Edinburgh during 1972 to 1973 before going to university. This position opened the door to my career in the art world in which I have managed or directed commercial art galleries in Edinburgh, Toronto and London. I have worked in four ‘white cubes’ (I excuse the first for being more grey than white!), and although I do not work in one now they remain part of what I do.

 I have been extremely fortunate in my career to have worked in an industry filled with bright, creative individuals; not just artists but the other gallerists whom I have encountered. Times have changed considerable in the past forty and more years, and these have inevitably impacted on the way galleries operate and do their business. I have experience this first hand. I have handled some amazing art from a wide range of times and countries – Twentieth Century European Masters, The Scottish Colourists, American Colourfield, Modern British and a whole host of contemporaries. I will touch upon all of these and more in this overview of my life ‘inside the white cube’.

 Thursday 14 April, 7.30pm at CICCIC, Taunton. Cost: £5, non-members £7, students £3.  CICCIC, Memorial Hall, Paul Street.

02 Oct

Delighted to help sponsor Amazing Space, the event that celebrates 45 years of the Dove Studios in Butleigh. The Dove has been an arts and crafts centre committed to excellence in the arts and to art education in the wider community since its inception in 1970. The exhibition includes specially commissioned work by local artists - Bronwen Bradshaw, Pennie Elfick, Michael Fairfax and Fiona Hingston – who have made site specific installations inspired by the Dove; emerging artist Jenny Newbury has produced a specially commissioned work inspired by the archive; and there is a fine display of Mini Prints and Books prints by the Dove students as well as a sculpture garden. Thanks to a well preserved and documented archive, an illustrated book highlighting the history of The Dove has been published. The exhibition runs throughout Somerset Art Weeks, from 3rd to until 18th October. It’s Venue 81 and can be found on Barton Road, Butleigh, Somerset BA6 8TL. There is a considerable amount to see!

09 Sep

I can't believe that the summer is almost over. Another year shooting by! I have been travelling up and down the country on behalf of the Barns-Graham Charitable Trust (more on that later) and been able to take in some exhibitions here and there. My highlight was the most surprising, coming on a day off driving around Dartmoor. Confluence consisted of the work of five artists - Susan Derges, Peter Randall-Page, Amy Shelton, Marcus Vergette and Sally Vergette -  at Green Hill Arts in Moretonhampstead. The exhibition grew out of a series of conversations between the artists and the gallery. All five live locally and are powerful advocates for the natural world; their friendships and deep concerns informing their practice. It was a finely curated exhibition - plenty to see but not overdone -  and of the highest quality art which would not have looked out of place in any international setting. Susan Derges's river photograms were displayed adjacent to Sally Vergette's textiles, wool rugs that she makes on a Navajo loom using wool from her own flock. Peter Randall-Page made drawings and prints of the Sap River, 'letting wet pigment flow under gravity across the paper in a quasi controlled manner'. Amy Shelton created a series of light boxes comprising pressed flowers while a central focus in the gallery was Marcus Vergette's table with 28 bronze cast bells, each with a different pitch.

It is a wonder what one can sometimes find in the more remote outposts of the gallery world. Much of it for sale too!

16 Feb

Since moving to Somerset I have often been asked by artists if I can offer advice as to how they can get more exhibitions for their work. I have helped where I can. The idea for a marketing course for artists evolved from these enquiries, and I have helped to put this half day session together with SAW (Somerset Art Works). I will be joined by Jenny Graham and Angela Blackwell who will be offering advice from their own experiences. Topics will range from the nature of art galleries; how to present and market your work; managing your business; and how to get funding for public projects.

If you live in the Somerset area and have a burning ambition to get your work seen more often and further afield, then this course may help you. If your career is well beyond that point and you are already exhibiting widely then probably not. In either case, if you know of anyone who could use a little help, please forward this information. Details of this half day course can be found on the SAW web site at

02 Mar

I do not know if it is because I find myself becoming disconnected with aspects of contemporary art but I have started to rekindle my appreciation and excitement about Old Master paintings. The start of this new journey is the research I am undertaking on seventeenth century printmaking and the consequent investigation of the landscape backgrounds of the Old Masters. That being another story for another time I confess I have not looked at Renaissance and post Renaissance paintings for many years. Having spent my entire university courses studying Baroque to Neo Classicism I rather turned my back on all things historical when dedicating myself to my career in modern and contemporary art.


Now that I am returning to the past I discover that I am looking at these works in completely different light, being rather older and wiser. Recent experiences at the National Gallery of Scotland and at Tate Britain have been instructive in ways I consider that I would have been unable to appreciate thirty years ago. I am not for a moment propounding anything earthshattering in anyone’s understanding or appreciation of, say, eighteenth and early nineteenth century British painting. This is a very personal apotheosis. I have never realised quite how modern Constable is, for example, in his use of flashes of white to scintillate even the darkest areas of foliage or shade, or how abstractly depicted (in almost modernist ways) are areas of Titian’s backgrounds.


I first experienced a view of interpreting Old Master paintings in a contemporary light when seeing Andrea Mantegna’s glorious series Triumphs of Caesar in an exhibition at the Royal Academy (they are usually housed the orangery at Hampton Court) in 1992. At a time when British Art was defined by the popularity, both critical and public, of strong and distinctive figurative art, and definitely pre pickled sharks, I remember asking a question in my mind about quite how far contemporary figurative art had come in five hundred years.

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  • Geoffrey Bertram
  • 1 Knuscroft Lane, Thurloxton, Somerset TA2 8RL
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