National Museum Cardiff invites visitors to question its art in new experimental exhibition

The museum hopes to get audiences looking at its art in a new way through experimenting with the ways in which it displays it

A man in historical clothing stands in front of a dramatic landscape in a work of art displayed at the National Museum Cardiff.
Part of the exhibition, John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea (2015) considers imperialism, the transatlantic slave trade, and the climate crisis © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery

The National Museum Cardiff has opened a new exhibition which invites visitors to question how they experience its art.

The Rules of Art?, which opened on 23 October, is an experimental exhibition which encourages comparison between works from across the museum’s art collections.

By placing art from the 16th century and later alongside newly acquired art from as recent as 2019, the museum is breaking from the common practice of placing historic, modern and contemporary art in separate, chronologically arranged galleries.

The exhibition aims to get audiences questioning past and present artistic traditions, and invites visitors to think about how different classes, genders and ethnicities are represented – or not – within its art.

Neil Lebeter, senior curator of modern and contemporary art, said: “This is the most ambitious show of its type that’s ever been done by the museum.”

The Rules of Art? arranges its 80 works into sections based on different artistic categories: History Painting, Portrait, Scenes of Everyday Life, Landscape and Still Life.

National Museum Cardiff's painting of a white woman with dark hair who is dressed a long gold and white gown.
Maximilian Lenz’s Spring (c. 1904) is featured in the History Painting section © Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales

According to its curator, the exhibition fits into the wider museum sector’s goal to find new ways for visitors to explore collections.

However, the museum wants to avoid being too specific about what visitors consider while there. 

“We’re hopefully leaving things open enough for people to bring their own associations and connections to things,” Neil said.

Showing until April 2023, the museum plans to alter the exhibition as it runs.

One major development intended for next year should involve the inclusion of a local community group-led acquisition. 

If successful, this will be the first time in the museum’s history that an outside group will have chosen a new work for the museum.

National Museum Cardiff is also planning a podcast and short film series to continue questioning The Rules of Art? with voices from outside the institution.

Watch the video below for an introduction to the exhibition from the National Museum Wales’s YouTube channel:

Artists featured in this eclectic exhibition include:

  • J.M.W. Turner, Romantic painter
  • Donald Rodney, 20th century artist
  • Claire Curneen, contemporary sculptor
  • Rembrandt, 17th century painter
  • Zoe Preece, 21st century ceramicist
  • Bedwyr Williams, contemporary artist
  • Gwen John, 19th-20th century painter