Hello! My name is Ken Simons, I'm the Art Handling Manager at Tate Liverpool.

My job entails organising all the practical stuff associated with setting up our exhibitions including the design of the exhibition space to the exciting part - hanging the works on the walls.  Of course, on my horizon is the opening of our big René Magritte exhibition and we are driving forward to that opening date with much speed and determination.

Building Magritte Event 1

When I think of Magritte I think of paintings with blue skies but looking through the exhibition catalogue there are quite a lot of stormy skies as well.  Building an exhibition can feel a little stormy at times, fortunately I work alongside a great team of experienced Art Handlers who will come in to help us weather the storm to produce an exhibition space to be proud of.  At the moment we are finalising the design of the exhibition and liaising with builders and manufacturers to achieve the finish we want. This is often great fun, learning new things.  We want to use dark grained wood finishes to some of the screens (the walls we’re building in the photographs), this references wood grain in many of Magritte’s paintings. However there are a few practical difficulties in using `live` wood in our galleries so I am exploring and learning about using various types of veneers to achieve the finish we want.

Magritte building the exhibition
The gallery is a blank canvas before the wall frames are erected

The next stage is getting the galleries prepared (which began last Monday) and then putting together schedules of deliveries, couriers and installation which are all quite a challenge and a major team effort. But ultimately we are all excited about getting the artworks here and seeing them in the flesh.  We will need to be well organised as much of the artwork in the exhibition will be arriving from around the world with 40 specialist couriers.

Magritte: building the exhibition - overseeing build
Overseeing the build

I’m particularly keen to see some of the landscape/townscape based works .These look amazing and many of the images seem to have had so much influence on other culture. I seem to recall an album cover from the seventies by Jackson Browne that was influenced by Magritte.  I think there was also a Jeff Beck album from the sixties but I never had this in my collection, I think it was an apple. Maybe one of you guys remember? Anyway I hope you can get to the exhibition. I think its going to be a good one.


Alan Carlyon Smith

Dear Ken I am an art teacher and have recently changed schools to one that is fortunate enough to have a gallery space. At the moment there are green padded screens on the walls and matching free-standing screens set on a carpet. I would like to change it to a white wall space and plain floor. In the past I have used 18mm 8'x 4'MDF for the screens which seem to work well. What material would you recommend for wall coverings? I hang sculpture, paintings and photography on a regular basis.As this will be quite expensive I want to get the right material so would welcome any advice that might give. Many thanks. Alan Smith

Ken Simons

Hello Carole

Thanks for your comments and I do agree, many of the things you describe can be very frustrating.

We do try and deal with these problems at the planning stage in our exhibitions and our front of house team diligently pass on comments from our visitors to help us make the right decisions. In the Magritte exhibition we are using pre-made labels on plastic which will be a lot more robust. In each room there will be a general text and this will be in Vinyl lettering however we are conscious of replacing these when damaged. Indeed it is part of the Art Handlers work to check and maintain the exhibition daily.

The exhibition is arranged over 10 themed rooms which run consecutively around the space so it should be easy to follow. I'm not sure from your comments whether you have managed to visit Tate Liverpool before, I hope you can visit us. And if you do manage to get to the Magritte exhibition please pass on your comments as they will much appreciated.

Best wishes Ken

Ken Simons

Hello Margara

Thank you for your message. Your method sounds a wonderful way to set the exhibition and sometimes we set our exhibitions in a similar way, particularly if we are working with an Artist and his/her own works.

Sometimes we set exhibition from a historical view and sometimes in themes but ultimately these paintings need to work together and find there own position in the space, so we allow ourselves flexibility to move paintings around to make this work.

In the Magritte show we are trying to reveal several different themes in Magritte's work so it requires a little more defined approach. However we always allow time to react to the visual and emotional impact of the paintings in the space.

I hope this is clearer how we work. The complexity of setting an exhibition is always demanding but also great fun.

Best Wishes Ken

Ken Simons

Hi Margara

Thank you for new message, i`m sorry I did`nt reply sooner. The last few days have been very busy but now our exhibition is open. Yesterday we had our press day and today is our private view. It all looks very beautiful. I hope your exhibition goes well. And such an important topic!

Best wishes Ken


I'm lucky enough to be able to watch the build first hand - professionals at work!Looking forward to commenting on orogress. Good Luck!


fascinating. when is the Magritte exhibition due to open?

Ken Simons

Hi Matt

I tried using Gantt charts a few years ago and found them only helpful in the initial stages of a project. I found them useful in focusing on the overall vision of a project and drafting out the basic timescale. However the stages of gallery preparation and installation of the artwork is relatively small in project scale and any plan needs to be extremely flexible to react to small changes. I find this easier to monitor and manage with a simple diary schedule. We do use Gantt charts for planning the annual schedules of the exhibition programme in the gallery and other major projects such a major building or maintenance projects.

I hope this helps. Best wishes Ken

Ken Simons

Hi Luiza

Thankyou very much for your comment. The team at Tate Liverpool are working very hard to make it a beautiful exhibition and I hope you can manage to visit us. I`m sure you would also be interested in how we make our exhibitions work in our historic dock buildings in Liverpool.

Best wishes Ken


I hope you will pay special attention to the signage for this exhibition. I have been dismayed in recent blockbuster exhibitions in the Tate Modern that signs did not mark the direction to walk in - say, you're in a room with an exit and a side direction - which way is the exhibit designed that people should walk? I've seen other people wandering around, not knowing which way to turn, people confused.

With an institution as great as the Tate, and the care and planning that goes into major exhibitions, this shouldn't be the case. I hope someone will give attention to making signs more user-friendly and helpful.

Related issue: Writing the name of a work, and any other details, on the wall must save a lot of money. However, weeks into the exhibition, the signs rub off, and it's hard to read. Perhaps this might be reconsidered too, please?

Thank you.


Márgara Graf

Well, I am really taken aback at the work you do. I have a gallery in Tepoztlán, Mexico. I have never had any professional training as a curator and, of course, I have never set a Magritte exhibition. I have just moved through the world and watched. We have set about 24 exhibitions and I tell you the way I do it: I have the work around and it moves to its right and only place, each piece has its own place, its neighbors, and it moves easily there.... I am always surprised that even, where there are faces, they look at the right place, some eyes follow you wherever you stand. I do nothing, I let the work direct me and I obey; they have their own life, likes, dislikes and will. Congratulations, I could never work with a plan! Márgara Graf

Ken Simons

Thank you DW. I always appreciate your comments...and a little bit of Good Luck ! Ken

Ken Simons

Hi Alan

Sounds like an interesting project and I think your on the right track with MDF. We actually use 12mm MDF for our freestanding screen walls which are fixed to studding frames. These are 2 sided ( you can see us in the blog photos erecting one of these ). We make freestanding screens like this because they give us stability because of there width and take good loads because of the studding support frame.

All our fixed walls are covered with 18-25mm MDF and again this is supported on either wood or steel framework that is fixed to the brickwork. This not only provides a strong support for carrying weights on the wall but also makes it possible to run power behind for video displays or powered sculptures etc.

There are other methods of cladding the walls. Plasterboard can be used and produces a pristine finish to the display, but it is difficult to fix into regularly as most of the time you need to drill holes and plug before fitting. If you want to hang heavy weights on plasterboard you need something like plywood or MDF behind it which will double your cost.

I think you should also consider 12mm MDF on the fixed walls particularly if you stud frame behind the boards. It may reduce your costs although it does depend on the type of weight you want to hang.

I hope this helps a little. I'm not sure whether you are able to come and see our Magritte show however if you can manage it I am quite happy to show you around our galleries and maybe help you a little more.

Best wishes Ken

Matt Whyndham

Do you also make use of project planning tools and methods for exhibitions, such as Gantt charts, or is that not your responsibility? I'd be interested in having something like this as a case study for teaching.


I'm an architect in Brazil and I know what a value the art environment. The works of Magritte surpass themselves and create a magic with images. Certainly the spectators will spend much time in front of the paintings to capture that magic. Great work for you! I hope to see this wonderful exhibition.

Márgara Graf

Thank you for your answer Ken. I wish I was there! I will remember your words:The complexity of setting an exhibition is always demanding but also great fun, now that we will have the artists's work with the topic "Peace” after things that have been been going on in Mexico, including my own work.... Sincerely, Márgara

Alan Carlyon Smith

Thanks Ken, they were really useful comments and supported what I thought! Sorry there was a delay getting back to you but end of term is always a bit manic.Many thanks for the offer of the tour, much appreciated but I live in London and don't often get up to Liverpool. Hope the exhibition goes well! Regards Alan