This book brings you behind the scene one step further than our last book, Sensation by Arnold Lehman. Down the rabbit hole of curators in the gut of museums. The place where exhibitions and blockbusters are imagined and wish lists, not so different than the ones we all have written once to Santa Clause, are put together. Through the pages and the different objects encounter, one can form a particular vision of what it must be to be a curator, the joy and the sorrows, the surprises – good and bad- the challenges and even something their own blind spot or knowledge limitation. This book isn’t the result of a curator that wants fame and glory but an honest and genuine story of a woman, a curator who loved the objects and artworks that she curated for their intrinsic qualities, for their stories and which deserved to live in more light than enclosed in themselves only.   

With the exception of two stories touching upon the same exhibition, the book is varied and doesn’t only talk about artwork, but also about industrial design, sports memorabilia, rooms, architecture and much more. The reading is easy, the content is rich in details, the emotions are present (but not drama-filled) and the stories compelling. The discoveries, through the variety, is telling and showcase how some roles in museums are misunderstood or have been shined in a very different light than the “ordinary one!” Behind the well-research knowledge, the facts and the stories are taking shape to the greatest and highly satisfying joy of the curious reader.  

Also, even if you haven’t read the book (YET!) we invite you to reflect on these questions before our discussion with Rosalind M. Pepall on Instagram Live: 

  • Have you ever thought, while visiting a museum, about the behind the scenes and the process of how objects are selected for an exhibition?   
  • How did those objects and artworks find their way to a museum, what was their journey? Which stories are encapsulated within them? 

As usual, it is our pleasure to give away 5 copies of Talking to a portrait – Tales of an Art Curator by Rosalind M. Pepall. We are grateful to the publisher, Véhicule Press for those.   

Please comment on our giveaway post on Instagram to enter it! You will get additional chances to win your copy by leaving comments, asking questions for the author and tagging other people.  

And it is your chance to ask a former curator the burning questions that you always wanted to ask. We want to read them and Rosalind in a conversation with myself, evlyne Laurin, will discuss them in an upcoming Instagram Live on February 22nd at 10 AM EST | 3PM GMT. What are your expectations about this book? Anything you hope to discover by reading it? Questions you hope to get answers to? 

And if you have a suggestion for us regarding the book club or even a book to suggest – email el@nic.art 


Review of the book by evlyne Laurin   

I must say that at first when I heard about the book, I wasn’t convinced. Would it be another dusty book telling a tale heard many times before? As Alice Procter puts it in her book The Whole Picture “If you meet a curator, ask them about what they do, then wait for them to explain that their job title comes from curare, a Latin verb meaning ‘to arrange’ or ‘to care for’, and just how actually their role is about nurturing or healing collections, not just displaying them – it happens nearly every time.” This is something that happened to me more than once, and I had no intention of putting myself through reading something for hours with the same feeling.  

But…Books hold a special place in my life, my house is filled with them, in my colour-coded bookshelves and everywhere else in between. They were, in my early days as a teenager, a way to discover worlds that were foreign to me, but also a quiet place to visit. Throughout my adult life, museums have competed for that place in my heart. They became my happy place, my sanctuary – obviously, they weren’t perfect, like the most book but they were a place where I could push my thoughts, and I must say that with the current changes that are starting to happen in the world, I simply can’t wait to see how this will evolve.  

I am diverging, going back to this book. I felt like I was catapulted behind the scene, almost feeling like I am in a meeting with exhibition designers, preparators, curators, and conservators and this is something that gives me the chill. I have been lucky to experience something similar more than once in my life, but each time there is something special that goes on and Rosalind puts down on paper all that excitement and the thrill of the chase, the hardship to find THE object, the sadness to not be able to realize the full vision, to not be able to find it, the tale told by the owner behind the close door and all the monsoon of emotions that are involved in the mix.  

The discovery was only better and unravelling through the pages of someone who cared profoundly about the viewers, about the experience that curators are creating for the audience and finally, mostly about the people and the story behind each artwork or object. Furthermore, her book made me realise how museums need to be more open and tell more stories like one of the Airstream trailers, the Stanley Cup and the Tiffany lamps – because it is those that will reach a broader and more diverse audience that believe (most of the time wrongfully) that museums are graveyards for art and objects. To this point, and to get back to my earlier disclosure about books and museums; not all my family share my love, neither for books nor for museums. But on Christmas Eve, it was Rosalind that made me extra special in the eyes of my oldest nephew when I told the tale of all the Stanley Cup. I saw the eyes of a 12-year-old shining, wondering how did I know all of this (and why on earth did I purchase a book about the Stanley Cup out of anything else in the world). 

As we are in confession mode, I will also disclose that I was on familiar territory with this book, it brought me very close to home. First Rosalind and I went to the same University, Concordia University in Montreal. I am also a frequent visitor of both the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and the Montreal Museums of Fine Arts. I won’t lie, the little girl in me that was full of hopes for great adventures in the art world but who felt that Montreal had its limit smiled more than once while reading the words of Mrs Pepall – And for me, this is what a great book can do. It reminds me that great things can happen everywhere – you only need to see those things.  


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More about the author  

A graduate of the M.A. program in Canadian Art History at Concordia University under Russell Harper, François-Marc Gagnon, and Laurier Lacroix, Rosalind Pepall began her career in Canadian art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 1978. Recently retired as Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at that museum, and formerly Curator of Canadian Art (1995-2000) there, Rosalind Pepall has assisted in a wide range of exhibitions, publications, conferences and research in the areas of the decorative arts and Canadian art and architecture. Since 2000 she has headed the curatorial committees for exhibitions on Ruhlmann: Genius of Art Deco, (2003-2004), in collaboration with the Metropolitan Museum of Art, N.Y., and the Musée des Années 30, Paris, France; the Canadian travelling exhibition Edwin Holgate, Canadian Painter, (2005-2007); and Tiffany Glass: Colour and Light, presented in Paris, Montreal, and Richmond, Virginia. (2009-2010). Most recently, Ms. Pepall co-edited the 400 page book on the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts’ collection of decorative arts and design, which accompanied the 2012 reinstallation of the Liliane and David M. Stewart pavilion of design. From 2009, she was a member of the curatorial committee for the preparation of the exhibition, Artists, Architects, and Artisans: Canadian Art 1890-1918, presented at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, November 2013-February 2014. She is presently acting as a freelance writer and curator.