Interview with Steampunk Artist and Designer, Art Donovan, Part 3

Welcome back for Part 3 in our chat with Art Donovan, steampunk author, artist and curator.

Part One can be read here.

Part Two can be read here.


AA: We could be here for days longer talking about each of the individual works that I find fascinating, which would be all of them, so let’s move on to talking about where people can see some of them in person – the various exhibitions you’ve organized and curated. What can you share about the first one that most people have probably heard about, and which pioneered the way for subsequent exhibitions around the world, the Museum of the History of Science at The University of Oxford in England?

AD: Here is how the Oxford Museum exhibition actually happened:

In 2007 I did a sculpture called “The Shiva Mandala”. When I started designing it, I wanted a very dramatic center piece for the design. I chose to use an ancient Persian astrolabe for the large, central design element. I looked around the web and saw that The Museum of the History of Science at Oxford University had the best online collection ancient astrolabes. Choosing one made by Mohammed Ibn Ali Bakr in 1321, I began designing and constructing the piece and, when completed, I posted pictures of it on my blog along with a live link to the Oxford Museum- as I figured viewers may be interested in that. The Shiva was quickly picked up by BoingBoing and I then started receiving over 9000 hits a day on my blog from it. It was staggering and kind of scary! I then figured that if people were interested enough in the Shiva to visit my blog, that they may also be interested enough to click on my link to the Oxford Museum.


I gave it a week.


I then contacted the website manager at the Oxford Museum and asked them “if they had noticed an increase in web traffic to their site that week”. They said they had never received so many web hits before and asked me how I could possibly know this. I then told them the story about how I created a Steampunk sculpture based on a piece in their permanent collection. Seeing all of the web hits, the museum webmaster then asked me to contact the Museum Director, the legendary Dr. Jim Bennett, and tell him the entire story. Dr. Bennett was most impressed by the interest shown in Steampunk.

I then suggested that perhaps a Steampunk Exhibition in his Museum would probably be just as popular, as it would be the first in the world. I then offered to curate it. Dr. Bennett said, “Yes”, and off it went.

It was a simple as that.


It took about 8 months to organize, collect all of the great artists and works, write and design lectures with ‘the dreaded’ PowerPoint (I hate it), design posters, create museum CD journals, currency exchange details, travel arrangements for two round trips to Oxford, HRM’s Customs and Revenues! buried in international legal and packing/shipping requirements and months of using ‘Google Translate’ for international emails.

The exhibition proved to be the most highly attended show in the museums’ history.

I still cannot believe it ever happened.


AA: There have been others since then, and the most recent is “Steampunk. The Art of Victorian Futurism” in Seoul, South Korea at the Hangaram Design Museum, which is in the Seoul Art Center IDA. There are an impressive 130 works from 30 artists in eight galleries. How did this opportunity come about and what was the experience pulling everything and everyone together?

AD: This was Asia’s first museum exhibition foray into Steampunk and the Korean Museum Director was Cambridge educated. Hearing about the Oxford exhibition, she wanted to create the same impact and attendance, the only difference being they had a massive museum space to fill. Hence the quantity of artists and size of the exhibition pieces.


As an aside. South Korea is adores culture and they pursue art, design, architecture, fashion, high technology and prosperity more creatively and aggressively than any other place I have ever seen. This show was a “no holds barred” kind of event. The displays and scope of the art and sculpture was stunning and a first rate job. Also, the artists and South Korean people were the finest I have ever had the pleasure of knowing and working with. Truly a memorable experience.


AA: The exhibition made the news, and here is one clip from Arirang News. There was also this interview on Korea Art TV. When you attend these exhibitions, what are some memorable reactions which you’ve heard?

AD: The enthusiasm for the art that the South Korean audience showed was a genuine surprise to me. Steampunk was entirely new to them but they fully embraced the style and wanted to know everything about it. A large book store was created in the Museum exclusively for the show and it featured every Steampunk art and fashion book imaginable- along with crafts and gift items of the genre. But the most memorable factor was people. Their comportment: the grace, intelligence, humor, respect and dignity with which they conducted themselves in every aspect was most impressive.


We’ll break here in our chat with Art Donovan.

Join us for the conclusion where Art talks about his book, The Art of Steampunk, and his advice to all of us.

Keep up to date with him on his website and his blog.

More information is also available on his page in The Steampunk Museum


Published in: on March 18, 2015 at 8:25 pm  Comments (1)  
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