Tate Liverpool seeks to embed research at the core of all of our public activities, to create a theoretical and conceptual backbone for all our operations. To help achieve this, the Tate Liverpool Research Centre: Curatorial Practice and Museology has a mission to focus on the notion of the ‘museum as a learning machine’. It will provide its users with a variety of activities from which to acquire new knowledge and in which to encounter de-familiarising yet edifying experiences. In the meantime the institution learns from the public, changing as a result of a genuine partnership. From a programming point of view, learning and emancipation become, in this vision, metaphors and guiding principles for Tate Liverpool’s wider activities, effectively turning the museum into a pedagogical instrument.


Modern and contemporary art museums today face many challenges. Like all museums, they need to respond and adapt to the varied forces shaping the contemporary world: growing internationalisation, the emergence of new centres of economic and cultural power, demographic shifts, the demands of environmental sustainability, and opportunities provided by new technologies, in particular social media.

Art museums also need to engage with the increasingly diverse practices of contemporary artists, constructing new narratives from the complex and unresolved histories of contemporary culture. Traditional museum functions of collecting, conserving, displaying and interpreting art are now being reframed in the light of new art practices and a rapidly evolving vision of the relationship of art museums and their publics.

Key questions and topics include:

  • How can the museum develop empowered individuals, with increased historical consciousness and new understanding of the contemporary world through engagement with art and artists?
  • Radical pedagogy: learning from artists who put teaching, co-design and co-production at the core of their practice
  • Examining art’s strategies of disruption, estrangement, distantiation, de-familiarization as pedagogical models aiming at empowering their publics with new forms of intelligibility
  • Experimenting with collective knowledge production: reversing the role of audience in the pedagogical relationship (as in Jacques Rancière’s Ignorant Schoolmaster)
  • Does an exhibition count as philosophy, anthropology, sociology, etc.? How does this mode of presenting ideas compare to an essay or other more traditional academic outputs?

Research focus

Tate Liverpool Research Centre: Curatorial Practice and Museology will pursue two research strands that interrelate and complement each other:

Strand 1: Exhibition studies

This area explores how exhibitions can produce new forms of understanding but also how they can facilitate its dissemination, decoding and interpretation. We will examine the exhibition as a form of expression that can be compared to a machine to produce, acquire and share knowledge for both its maker – the curator researching a new territory – and its user – the visitor using it to learn about a subject and taking part in the sharing of knowledge. In addition, exhibitions can be particularly empowering texts as they allow multiple readings and encourage active associative thinking.

Research themes

  • The Museum as Learning Machine
  • Curatorial practice and the creation of new narratives
  • Open source interpretation
  • Commissioning, presenting and interpreting new artistic practices

Objectives: Exhibitions and knowledge exchange

  • Examine exhibitions as devices to present ideas and effects (between essay and poetry writing)
  • Examine exhibition-making as a mode of research, a vehicle for the production and dissemination of knowledge and/or a language attaining signification using objects
  • Examine the role of the audience in generating new knowledge. Can exhibitions be compared to textbooks? Does this mean postulating an implicit educational path for their audiences?

Strand 2: Art’s emancipatory potential

The key aspect of this area of enquiry revolves around the interrelation between art and life and its connection to pedagogy. The avant-garde belief that the experience of art can successfully influence reality should firmly underwrite the museum’s activity without turning it into a statistical exercise. If art can provide its audience with a life-changing learning experience, which often develops over time and is difficult to measure, how can this be assessed, demonstrated and reflected upon? How does the audience’s experience of the museum influence museum practices?

Research themes

  • The social and civic roles of the museum in the twenty-first century
  • The role of the museum, the public and the artist in the co-design, co-production and co-delivery of artistic and learning programmes
  • The interrelationship between art, life, pedagogy and wellbeing

Objectives: Learning, co-design and impact

  • Examine new ways of assessing the intangible, intrinsic and long-term impact of artistic and learning programmes for and with audiences, participants and co-producers.
  • Examine art’s impact on wellbeing through working closely with individuals and partners over time.
  • Investigate these issues through the disciplinary lens of public policy analysis of the cultural sector.

Collaborative Doctoral Awards

The Research Centre hosts Collaborative Doctoral Award students registered with our University partnerships. These CDAs are advertised on an annual basis. This research informs Tate Liverpool’s programme research and includes a range of seminars, workshops and symposia.

For more information please contact Jessica Fairclough, Research Assistant: jessica.fairclough@tate.org.uk.