Gallery of Wonder


Project Info


  • Aideen Barry
  • Irene Brown
  • Mat Collishaw
  • Mark Fairnington
  • Tessa Farmer
  • Polly Morgan
  • Aura Satz
  • Quay Brother


  • Arts Council England
  • Northumberland County Council
  • Newcastle Institute for Creative Arts Practice
  • Berwick Visual Arts

The Gallery of Wonder was a major touring exhibition of newly commissioned artworks by leading contemporary artists, funded by Arts Council England. Led by Arts&Heritage, the Gallery of Wonder referred back to the origins of museums: the collections of wonder and natural history and medical exhibits, shown within travelling caskets.

Delivered in collaboration with Irene Brown of Newcastle University, this contemporary Gallery of Wonder commissioned new work to engage audiences in marvellous and magical contemporary art.

The mobile art gallery – housed in a large, black, customised tent – travelled to seven rural Northumbrian agricultural shows, fairs, and events during the Summer and Autumn of 2015. The gallery exhibited specially commissioned work by Aideen Barry, Mat Collishaw, Tessa Farmer, Polly Morgan and the Quay Brothers; alongside works by Irene Brown, Mark Fairnington and Aura Satz.

At each venue the crew erected the gallery: a big black circular tent decorated with countless piercing eyes, some set with small lenses providing a distorted peep into the shadowy interior. Outside, a ‘Barker’ (performed by artist Dennis Jobling) enticed the public to purchase a ‘magic ticket’ to gain entrance to the mysterious exhibit.

Within was the exhibition of new works created by the artists, who had responded to the idea of wonder; captivating an audience and holding them spellbound by what they see.

The tented gallery made specific reference to the history of travelling booths and side shows at fairs, when items of curiosity such as waxworks of famous people, coronation tableaux and strange misshapen creatures were presented, juxtaposing the exotic and the amazing, the scientific and the fantastic and firing the imaginations of visitors.

“This degree of animation, excited discussion and unselfconscious interaction between visitors was of a type seldom, if ever, experienced in galleries and museums, and was further evidence that the tent setting maximised the sense of ‘ownership’ over the experience of viewing contemporary art.” – Irene Brown, extract from The Gallery of Wonder on Tour, 2021, Arts&Heritage Anniversary Publication

“I can never get my eldest grandson off his PC, he is always plugged in but in here he is looking and engaging and exploring. It is a real experience.” – Visitor to the Gallery Of Wonder at Woodhorn Miners’ Picnic, 2015

The Artist

Irene Brown is a sculptor and site–specific installationist. Her research and practice is engaged with wonder, focusing on the history and philosophy of science, specifically cabinets of curiosity (wonder cabinets), investigating the threshold between aesthetic and scientific realms. In 2010 she established the Gallery of Wonder (GoW) as a discussion point and exhibition facility for research into the evocation of wonder through visual display.