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Page last updated at 12:10 GMT, Monday, 19 July 2010 13:10 UK
Marriette pulling strings to fill Abbey's Spanish Barn
By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Amelia Marriette in the Spanish Barn
Amelia Marriette came to work at Torre Abbey in 2007

Amelia Mariette comes from family of artists so being a curator seems to come naturally to her.

But her route to becoming Torre Abbey's Keeper of Art has been a circuitous one - via the Ministry of Defence and the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Along the way she has clearly learnt the art of persuasion helping put Torre Abbey firmly on the cultural map.

She came to the historic Torquay venue three years ago and since her arrival has set about trying to attract work by some of the world's top artists to the town.

In 2009 she pulled off a major success when the Abbey's Spanish Barn was filled with the thousands of tiny figures which make up Antony Gormley's Field For The British Isles.

And now in 2010 she has managed to secure a work by one of the world's most controversial artists, Damien Hirst.

The work - Mother and Child, Divided - comprises a cow and a calf, each cut in half and preserved in a pair of glass-walled tanks in a formaldehyde solution.

Spanish Barn Torre Abbey
The work is on show at the Spanish Barn until 30 August 2010

It weighs 6.5 tonnes (the weight of a London Routemaster bus) and is on show as part of a free exhibition at the Spanish Barn.

It was created for exhibition at the 1993 Venice Biennale and was subsequently the focal point of the 1995 Turner Prize at Tate Britain - then The Tate Gallery.

That was the same year Hirst - who has a house in north Devon - won the prize.

The work is being lent to Torbay Council by Tate and the Arts Council Collection and is on show until 30 August 2010.

Almost 40,000 people came to see the Gormley -"We had 38,307 for that so 38,308 to see the Hirst would be great," said Amelia.

A second exhibition of this calibre is a major coup and she says the success of the Gormley exhibition meant they had a "good track record" behind them to enable the Abbey to approach high profile bodies to lend them work.

"I thought the Gormley would look amazing in the barn but I didn't think we'd get it as quickly as we did."

So what was it like when the Damien Hirst piece - an exhibition copy - arrived?

"When the lorry arrives, that's when the feelings start, when you see it laid out in the barn - that's an emotional time.

"There's also a joke to be had there - cows in a barn, I like that."

As the same time as the exhibition in the Spanish barn is TACO (Torre Abbey Contemporary Open) which gives artists, many of them local, the chance to exhibit alongside names like Hirst.

People like Helen Snell - whose laser cut paper sculptures are forming part of the exhibition which opened on 10 July 2010 in the Abbey's contemporary art gallery.

I'm aiming high - you get a lot of 'nos'
Amelia Marriette

"It really is an amazing venue and what is happening here is really exciting," said Helen.

"I first saw the Hirst in the old Tate Britain - it's like a beacon really - and to have it here totally sets a different agenda and I'm thrilled to bits.

"We don't want to always have to be about going to London to see things."

And this is a view Amelia endorses: "I'm aiming high. You get a lot of 'nos'- but I didn't come to Devon to retire," she said.

She acknowledges that if those "higher up the chain" than her at Torbay Council had not been receptive to her plans, it would not have worked.

Sue Cheriton and Anna Gilroy are singled out for praise with Amelia extremely keen to point out the successes are not purely down to her.

Helen Snell with her laser cut paper boats
Helen Snell with her laser cut paper boats at Torre Abbey

So how does she keep up with what is happening in the art world?

"Well obviously I try to get to as many exhibitions as I can but that costs time and money so I do quite a lot of research online - there's definitely an element of internet curating."

Plans are already afoot for next year's exhibition but Amelia is tight-lipped about who will be taking centre stage.

"It's not all signed yet so I don't want to jinx it but it's an amazingly well-known name in the art world."

So if she was able to compile a curator's wish list for the Barn whose work would be on it?

"I love Rachel Whiteread and Anish Kapoor and my ultimate fantasy would be to keep the Barn as a venue and have a Saatchi-syle gallery on the seafront."

And with what Amelia's powers of persuasion have achieved since her arrival in 2007 - it just might happen.

Damien Hirst's Mother and Child, Divided
Spanish Barn, Torre Abbey, Torquay
Until 30 August 2010

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