I FELT guilty about giving up my £73-a-year Art Fund membership. Not only does the charity allow entry to exhibitions for half price, but it helps the funding of the arts which are now in trouble. It raises funds to buy art works for the nation and awards grants.
Then I read the latest edition of their magazine and learned what they are proudly spending your/my money on. They’ve given £40,000 to the Barber Institute of Fine Arts in Birmingham for an arts, health and wellbeing programme ‘for the needs of the local community’. If you’ve got a verruca but live outside the area, don’t bother going. There’s a ‘host nurse in residence as part of a pioneering scheme to enrich medical education through culture, using multi-disciplinar (sic) professionalism and community engagement’. No idea what that means and their final epistle to enter my letterbox doesn’t say.
Then we’ve got ‘A New Work for Studio Voltaire’; nothing to do with the dead white male philosopher. The ‘not-for-profit’ centre in Clapham, south London, will reopen in September after a £2.8million transformation. It’s also funded by the Arts Council and will include a permanent work by Joanne Tatham and Tom O’Sullivan, commissioned by the AF, entitled ‘The Institute For The Magical Effect Of Actually Giving A Shit (a note to our future self)’. It will be installed in the venue’s public loos.
The AF is also supporting the ‘Rural Diversity Network’ to emphasise ‘Black voices in Cornwall’. It can only be a relief to us all that this work will ‘feed into the work of all local and national museums across the UK, ensuring representation and informing anti-racist practice’. As opposed to the ‘racist practice’ which now informs our galleries, presumably.
My £73 has also been helping the Queer Heritage and Collections Network which ‘provides peer support for people in the UK working with LGBTQ+ collections and histories’. The network has funded a project manager, Dan Vo, and a two-day symposium in January which gave vital advice on how to ‘co-curate with queer communities and how to interpret queer lives’. It is also funding sixty free training sessions on ‘anti-racism in museum recruitment’, probably meaning art galleries as well, but American usage seems to be preferred.
We can also look forward to the British Art Show, organised by London’s Hayward Gallery, which tours the country every five years. In ‘the spirit of inclusiveness’ its curators, Irene Aristizabal and Hammad Nasar, have ensured that it will be dominated by black and Asian ‘cultures and music’ and of course ‘histories’, plus the obligatory ‘modern-day legacies of slavery, and expressions and explorations of gender identity and fluidity’. Where would we be without them?
Remember when visiting a gallery on a wet afternoon, sometimes with grandparents, was a lulling affair, when some paintings were pointed out with admiration and nude statues were regarded as rather outré? A hundred, a thousand years ago? It’s no good being nostalgic. In a recent article, ‘Out with the Old Masters?’ Sir Charles Saumarez Smith, former director of the National Portrait and the National Galleries, insists that those faceless folk rarely consulted on anything, the public, ‘are more stimulated by contemporary art than the art of the past. The priorities of museums [I think he means to include art galleries] are changing towards a much less instructional approach, away from the past towards the present, away from teaching towards experience’. He writes that this is ‘indisputably true’. Not sure how he knows that, or what that ‘experience’ aims to do within our galleries.
No doubt he and the AF approve of turning them into tourist funfairs like Tate Modern, and it’s pretty certain that they heartily approve of Mwazulu Diyabanza, a Congolese political activist who heads the Multicultural Front against Pillaging, a group dedicated to pillaging. Last June, between lockdowns, he entered a museum in Paris and seized a 19th century African funeral post from Chad, shouting ‘We’re taking it home!’ and wrenching it from the wall. A month later in Marseille he tried to remove an ivory spear from the Museum of African Art, then he turned up in Holland, attempting to snatch a Congolese statue from another museum. He says he ‘will be visiting the British Museum once it reopens. It contains nine hundred African pieces that are very symbolic’. Given a decent grant by the Art Fund, he could easily be a front-runner for the next Turner Prize.