As the final elements of Tate Britain’s contemporary painting show Painting Now come together, Curator Melissa Blanchflower shares the process behind the show’s installation, and when the magic happens

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  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    Artist Simon Ling with curators Clarrie and Andew during the installation of Painting Now 

    Photo: Olivia Hemingway
    © Tate Photography

  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    Curators Andrew, Melissa and Clarrie with artist Simon Ling during installation

    Photo: Olivia Hemingway
    © Tate Photography

  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    An art handler with Tomma Abts’s Zebe, 2010

    Photo: Olivia Hemingway
    © Tate Photography

  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    Simon Ling’s and Lucy McKenzie’s paintings waiting to be hung

    Photo: Olivia Hemingway
    © Tate Photography

  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    Installing Catherine Story’s work

    Photo: Olivia Hemingway
    © Tate Photography

  • Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

    The finished painted entrance to the show

Hello, I am Melissa Blanchflower, Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Tate Britain. Over the past week we have been busy installing Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists a new exhibition including Tomma Abts, Gillian Carnegie, Simon Ling, Lucy McKenzie and Catherine Story.

The installation period is the most exciting and intense part of organising an exhibition. It is the culmination of a year and a half of research and planning which brings together different departments across Tate from curatorial and art handling, to conservation, interpretation and more!

Building the exhibition involved redesigning the galleries, changing the spaces of the previous Lowry exhibition into five rooms, giving each of the artists an opportunity for a focused presentation of their work. With the rebuilding and painting of walls, we also had a long low ledge made to display two works by Catherine Story.

Nothing beats seeing the paintings in the ‘flesh’, once they are unpacked from their travelling cases, and experiencing the scale, colours, textures, details and visual impact of the images. The exhibition also includes a number of previously unexhibited works including new paintings by Gillian Carnegie and Tomma Abts.

Painting Now Tate Britain Installation

Curator Clarrie and artist Simon Ling working on the placement of his paintings

Photo: Olivia Hemingway
© Tate Photography

In the months leading up to the exhibition we work out initial layouts of the paintings. This enables us to experiment with grouping works and get a feel for how the different artists’ spaces work together. This summer, rather than using a scaled model box, we spent a day with Simon Ling and his paintings working on the selection and layout of the exhibition in an equivalent sized space. While the artists’ dedicated galleries remain the same in the exhibition, the layout of paintings change and develop as the curatorial team works closely with the artists to finalise the hang of their works. One of the ‘bigger’ projects of this exhibition installation was putting together Lucy McKenzie’s painted structure Loos House 2012 which is made up of many parts and stretches over seven metres!

Now the installation is very almost complete, final adjustments have been made and we are in the middle of working on the lighting. The point when the lights are finished marks the end of the installation, and for me, this is when the magic happens. After all the activity of setting up the exhibition, there is a final moment of calm before what you’ve been working on goes out into the world.

Another major part of the preparing the show beyond the gallery walls has been the production of a catalogue with new key texts and interviews with the artists. One of the aims of the show is to add to current debates about painting, so let us know your thoughts and leave your comments below.

Painting Now: Five Contemporary Artists is on display at Tate Britain from 12 November 2013 to 9 February 2014