01 August 2018

Sarah Quantrill

Sarah Quantrill

Curator at V&A Museum, London
Bachelor of Visual Arts

In amongst the precious treasure trove of over 2 million objects – a myriad of furniture, fashion, textiles, photography, sculpture, painting, jewellery, glass, ceramics – spanning over of 5,000 years of human creativity, Sarah Quantrill is busily working away preparing for her next display as an Exhibitions Manager at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

She is tending to a glistening gold satin evening dress, with silver thread embroidery and couched gold metal thread lined with silk organza, from Christian Dior’s H-Line Autumn-Winter 1954 Haute Couture collection. As one of Christian Dior’s most controversial silhouettes, the press engaged in the debate whether H-Line should stand for ‘Heavenly’ or ‘Horrid’ when it was first released.

The dress will soon take its place among hundreds of other stunning Christian Dior dresses, celebrating the designer’s history and influence, which will line the 166 year-old arts and design museum, named after Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in the London borough of Kensington & Chelsea.

“My current project is the exhibition Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams which will open in the Sainsbury Gallery at the V&A on 2 February 2019 and is based on the exhibition Christian Dior: Courturier du Rêve that was held at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris last year," she says.

“I saw Christian Dior: Courturier du Rêve in Paris and loved the exhibition for the incredible content and the execution of the set works, and I am looking forward to being part of the team to deliver the exhibition at the V&A – and to be working with such exquisite dresses!”

As the largest fashion exhibition the V&A has staged since Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty in 2015, the exhibition spans from 1947 until the present day, and will include perfume, accessories, photographs, film, sketches and hundreds of dresses – including Princess Margaret’s 21st gown – which will be keeping Sarah on her toes as Exhibition Manager well into the new year.

“On any given exhibition you may be working with a variety of internal and external stakeholders such as artists, conservators, fine art transport agents, text editors, exhibition 3D and 2D designers, sound engineers, lighting designers, costume and object mounters and exhibition set work contractors.”

“It is always an exciting role and each day brings something new.”

Photo by Sarah Jameson
Photo by Sarah Jameson

Making art was Sarah's original passion, and an important beginning to her early career. After studying drawing and painting at the North Adelaide School of Art Art (now TAFE’s Adelaide College of the Arts), she took a year out to work in the Tate Britain bookshop in London and there discovered museums were the environment she most wanted to contribute to.

However Sarah credits her time at the University of South Australia, studying a Bachelor of Visual Arts and majoring in Art History & Theory in the following years, as a major influence on her eventual career in museums, boasting an eclectic professional life that has taken her all over the world to travel for work

“The degree enabled me to consider what options my career path might take and the teaching staff at UniSA were inspirational and incredibly supportive of students. They encouraged both experimentation and scholarly research,” she says.

“One of the highlights of my study at UniSA was a textiles field trip to the Flinders Ranges organised by Emeritus Professor Kay Lawrence and led by Dr Ruth Hadlow. We spent several days exploring the landscape and its histories, and using natural materials to create sculptures, installations, and natural textile dyes.

“It was a brilliant experience.”

Following UniSA, Sarah completed a Masters of Curatorship at Melbourne University and was then lucky enough to obtain a role at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) as a documentation officer progressing to various Registrarial roles in acquisitions, loans, and exhibitions.

After stints at NGV and Tate, Sarah has now been at the Victoria and Albert Museum for almost five years in the Exhibitions Department as an Exhibition Manager.

“I love working at the V&A, it is a vibrant and dynamic museum and I work with a highly skilled, professional and enthused team. I hope to continue working on exciting museum projects and exhibitions that engage the public and encourage new and young audiences to the arts,” she says.

Photo by Sarah Jameson
Photo by Sarah Jameson

As an advocate for museum and gallery spaces as places of independent academic knowledge and research, new ideas, and as places to protect objects and material of social, cultural, historic and religious significance, Sarah is not resting on her laurels when it comes to the representation and intersectionality of such cultural institutions.

She is a strong proponent of museums being a space of architectural wonder, a place for being curious and a place to engage in learning for everyone. This includes the elevation of talented women and minority groups in the industry, worthy of top roles and responsibilities, gaining more recognition in such a creative and culturally important space. Sarah notes that South Australia is leading the way in some respects.

“One thing that I would love to witness within my working career is a marked increase in women holding more senior management and leadership roles across the arts sector, and the recent appointment of Rhana Devenport to the role of Director at Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA) brings with it hope that this shift may happen sooner rather than later.”

Despite Sarah’s career taking her from Adelaide to Melbourne and now to London, and being fortunate to travel for work visiting cities in Russia, Canada, America and Europe to oversee the installation of exhibitions and loans, she still undeniably has a soft spot for Adelaide.

“I think that the future looks bright for Adelaide, with the recent phenomenal success of increased visitor numbers at AGSA with Nick Mitzevich as Director, the much loved Adelaide Festival continuing to grow, and Adelaide Contemporary, in whatever form it manifests, has the potential to continue to transform the North Terrace precinct,” she says.

“It is exciting to keep an eye on what Adelaide is up to from afar, and if there was ever an opportunity to work on exhibitions within one of Adelaide's cultural institutions, coming home to my beloved festival city would be a career dream come true!”

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