In Conversation With… Natalia Sidlina, Curator of the Tate Modern’s Cezanne Exhibition

October 2022

Natalia Sidlina, Curator of Tate Modern’s Cezanne

“To be honest, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a museum curator. Throughout my entire life, it has been my main ambition.”

Natalia Sidlina, curator of international art at Tate Modern and lead curator of the gallery’s Cezanne exhibition, has always had a passion for museums and the arts.

Her introduction to the Tate galleries came during her PhD research. The archival collection of Naum Gabo, an artist whose ideas underpin much of the current artistic practices and methods, is held at the Tate.

“At the end of the 1990s, I arrived in London to do my research based on this collection… I spent two and a half years with my nose lodged in the many documents of the archival collection of Gabo, to the point where I would turn up and the assistant would already have boxes ready for me!”.

Natalia has worked in the art world since 2005, and in 2015 started her current role.

“It was always a dream to work at Tate so it was amazing to be welcomed into the Tate Modern curatorial team. I get to spend each day looking at beautiful works of art and talking to world-leading, as well as emerging, artists, and I feel very lucky and proud I can call curation my work”.

Since joining Tate, Natalia has opened an exhibition every year. The Cezanne exhibition, which she describes as “once in a generation”, has been one of her bigger challenges. It has been in production for over 5 years; on the day we spoke to Natalia, it received 5 star reviews from the leading critics.

One of the difficulties of curating such an important exhibition is choosing which of the artist’s works to include.

“It’s a struggle of decision making as there are so many wonderful works out there, and we have to think ‘Why are we making this exhibition? Why are we making it now? For whom are we doing this?’ and answer these questions with the selection of works. Our aim is to give the public something exceptional”.

A piece that Natalia is particularly fond of is Mont Sainte-Victoire Seen from the Bibémus Quarry. Having spent some time in Aix-en-Provence, where Cezanne painted the work and spent much of his life and career, she feels a particular connection to the work.

Paul Cezanne Mont Sainte-Victoire 1902-6. Philadelphia Museum of Art. Gift of Helen Tyson Madeira, 1977, 1977-288-1 

“Walking the same mountain, experiencing the same sun on my skin, smelling the pine and resin in the air as he did … it makes it extra special as one can engage with the paintings on a different very personal level”.

During her time there, Natalia noticed how Cezanne’s compositions were never the “instagrammable” scenes.

“I would be drawn to a picture-perfect rock formation that looked like a medieval bridge, but the ‘scenic’ didn’t interest Cezanne. He was constantly in search for a motif – the very motivation for picture making – which would reveal itself through the long-term engagement with the local landscape, through years of careful observation and thinking about the way of realising the feeling this motif evokes in one. Standing in the exact same place as he did, I would need to concentrate and look to spot the rocky structure Cezanne chose for his motif, where the light falls in a fascinating way, bringing together the reds of the rocks, greens of the pine trees, blues of the sky and the outline of the mountain on the horizon into one harmonious composition”.

Natalia notes how this exhibition has been aided by the generosity and understanding of many stakeholders throughout the process, including philanthropists and the galleries and private collectors who lend their artwork.

“We wouldn’t be Tate Modern as we are now without supporters trusting us to do the right thing. They are firmly committed, as we are, to making art accessible and approachable to the widest and most diverse audiences. Hopefully, our visitor numbers are a statement of the impact of these supporters.”

HFF supported the Cezanne exhibition as part of a £200,000 grant to Tate Modern. To find out more about the exhibition, click here.