Victoria Tower, Houses of Parliament
Dr Liam Fox was until recently Great Britain's Secretary of State for Defence. He resigned on 14th October. The reason for this decision was set out in a terse letter he sent to the British Prime Minister, David Cameron:
"I mistakenly allowed the distinction between my personal interest and my government activities to become blurred. The consequences of this have become clearer in recent days. I am very sorry for this."(1)
Following the media investigations into this affair it is evident that this "blurring" of the personal and professional is nothing new. Moreover, the tenacity with which Dr Fox attempted to hold on to his job would suggest that he saw nothing wrong with using his elected position to further the ideological beliefs of his closest associates.
Many might consider this affair to be little more than a petty political squabble that pales into insignificance in comparison to the deaths of Lance Corporal Jonathan McKinlay and Marine David Fairbrother, both of whom were killed last month whilst on active duty in Afghanistan. Dr Fox referred to these two men whilst addressing parliament on 10th October. He deserves credit for honouring these soldiers. He also merits praise for recognising the importance of the political maelstrom which raged around him. "Serious issues have been raised here", declared Dr Fox to his fellow politicians.(2)
These "serious issues" are all to do with ethics. In his foreword to the Ministerial Code, David Cameron declared it was his government's "historic responsibility" to renew public confidence in politics and politicians. One way of achieving this was for his colleagues to abide by section 7.1 of the Ministerial Code:
"Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise,
between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise."(3)
Dr Fox fell well short of this edict due to his longstanding association with his pseudo advisor (sic) Adam Werritty and their links with the erstwhile "charity" Atlantic Bridge.
But what does any of this have to do with museums? Well, the Fox affair has placed a renewed spotlight on "The Seven Principles of Public Life". These are: selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership.(4) These principles feature as an annex not only to the Ministerial Code but also to the Code of Ethics for Museums. The latter sets out the "ethical principles for all who work for or govern museums in the UK".
Compare what we know about Dr Fox's behaviour with the following from the Code of Ethics for Museums:
2.6 Avoid any private activity or pursuit of a personal interest that may conflict
or be perceived to conflict with the public interest.
2.17 Avoid being seen as representing the museum if speaking personally or
on behalf of outside organisations whose practices and purposes conflict with
that of the museum.
Now imagine if Dr Fox had been a museum director instead of a Secretary of State for Defence. Consider that a friend of the director had handed out business cards giving the impression that he was representing him and the museum. Then reflect on the implications of unidentified outside interests influencing the museum's collecting policy, exhibition programme or special events. And what if it transpired that associates of the director had links to the art and antiquities market – buying and selling items related to those shown at the museum.
Now ask yourself: would this individual be a fit person to run a museum?
(1) Cited in "Defence Secretary Liam Fox quits", BBC News, accessed 16/10/2011 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-15311615.
(2) Hansard, 10th October 2011, Column 28, accessed 16/10/2011 at, http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm111010/debtext/111010-0001.htm.
(3) Ministerial Code, May 2010, accessed 16/10/2011 at, http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/ministerial-code-may-2010.pdf.
(4) This stems from Standards in Public Life: the First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life (1995). See: www.public-standards.org.uk.
Cabinet Secretary Sir Gus O'Donnell's official report has concluded that "Dr Fox's actions clearly constitute a breach of the Ministerial Code" (see links below). For his part, Dr Fox acknowledged his shortcomings but sought to portray the "media frenzy" that had surrounded him as something that "should worry all of us." (1) Perhaps Dr Fox would still be in government without this so-called "frenzy"? Be that as it may, his attempt to castigate the media should not distract attention from those issues that remain. The principal unanswered question has been identified by the shadow leader of the House, Angela Eagle: "Why was the defence secretary allowed to treat the ministerial code as if it were an optional extra?" (2)
(1) Anon (2011) "Liam Fox attacks 'vindictiveness, even hatred' of media", BBC News, 19/10,
accessed 19/10/2011 at, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-15360827
Source: Cabinet Office
In July I posted a comment about the exhibition Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery (Burch 2011a). I have since had a chance to visit the museum and am now in a position to develop some of the ideas mentioned in my early blog posting.
Although the show in question fills only one small room, the ethical issues it raises are momentous. However, as with the concurrent exhibition Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500, the museum authorities have ensured that any contentious matters are only mentioned in the associated publication and not in the gallery (cf. Burch 2011b). The focus of the curators' acclaim rests instead on Eastlake as a pioneer whose influence is still felt to this day:
"His professional approach to the study and management of the Gallery's collection was ground-breaking and set an example that has been followed ever since."(1)
This is undoubtedly true in terms of the museum's collections. But can the same be said when it comes to its attitudes towards visitors?
"The pictures were Eastlake's first priority in everything he did at the National Gallery.
As a result the desire to accommodate visitors and their needs had second place and
definite limits" (Avery-Quash & Sheldon 2011: 174).
This, alas, seems to tally with the curatorial treatment of Eastlake. The "modest, scholarly and determined man" that emerges from the exhibition contrasts with the "wily" operator in Avery-Quash and Sheldon's associated biography (2011: 155). Yet even they are careful to avoid any real criticism. They note that Eastlake had collected privately since 1812, but conclude that:
"It was probably the case that Eastlake limited his own purchases to paintings which he
considered ineligible for the Gallery on grounds of size, state of preservation, or status of
the artist in question. Such an honourable demarcation would have been characteristic
of the man" (Avery-Quash & Sheldon 2011: 162).
This entirely positive stance allows the authors to bypass any awkward questions. Take, for example, Pollaiuolo's The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian (1475, oil on poplar, 291.5 x 202.6 cm, inventory no. NG292). Eastlake's contemporary, John Morris Moore (1812-85) argued that the methods used to acquire it had violated Tuscan law. Avery-Quash and Sheldon mention this claim and Moore's belief that it has been "smuggled out, using bribery and corruption" before adding: "Moore's aspersions did not have any lasting consequence" (Avery-Quash & Sheldon 2011: 177). But were the accusations true?
Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery was a missed opportunity to provide some much-needed historical context to one of the most pressing issues facing museums today: the question of deaccessioning. Changes to the Code of Ethics for Museums now allow for "financially motivated disposal in exceptional circumstances" (2). This, not surprisingly, has given rise to many complex, ethical arguments. There is an urgent need for an informed debate that draws on past practice. A case in point concerns the National Gallery's decision in 1857 to sell thirty-seven paintings from the former Krüger collection. Avery-Quash and Sheldon (2011: 160) remark that "[t]his act is considered unfortunate today, given that important works from this history of German art were irreparably broken up." Why was this affair ignored in the Eastlake exhibition? And why was there no mention of the 1856 "Act to extend the Powers of the Trustees and Director of the National Gallery, and to authorize the Sale of Works of Art belonging to the Public"? This legislation was enacted in response to sellers who only agreed to part with an entire collection of artworks rather than just the specific painting that Eastlake was so eager to acquire. Hence the National Gallery's decision to sell works at Christie's auction house on 14 February 1857. How many current museum professionals are aware of this precedent?
One positive thing about the Eastlake exhibition is that it does occasionally touch upon that most un-museum of subjects: money. We learn, for instance, that Eastlake's most expensive acquisition was the £13,650 spent on Paolo Veronese's The Family of Darius before Alexander (1565-7, oil on canvas, 236.2 x 474.9 cm, inventory no. NG294). Of course, the museum does not see fit to include this figure among the "key facts" about the painting (3). And, whilst visitors to the Eastlake exhibition are given the National Gallery's acquisition budget for 1855 (£10,000), they are not told what the figure is today. Why were the two sums not set side-by-side, thus enabling visitors to compare today's situation with that of 156 years ago?
The answer is because, then as now, "visitors and their needs" take "second place" within very "definite limits". Sir Charles Eastlake can therefore rest easy: his legacy at the National Gallery is indeed secure.
(1) Cited from the interpretation panel "Eastlake's legacy at the National Gallery".
(2) See "Sale of collections", accessed 09/10/2011 at, http://www.museumsassociation.org/collections/sale-of-collections.
(3) "Key facts", accessed 09/10/2011 at, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/paolo-veronese-the-family-of-darius-before-alexander/*/key-facts.
Avery-Quash, Susanna & Julie Sheldon (2011) Art for the Nation: The Eastlakes and the Victorian Art World
(London: National Gallery Company)
Burch, Stuart (2011a) "Museum ethics – then and now", 24/07, accessed 09/10/2011 at,
Burch, Stuart (2011b) "Deception by Design", 17/09, accessed 09/10/2011 at,
The association between museums and "sacred" or "consecrated" places has long been understood (Elliott 2002). This overlap has now been rendered complete by the National Gallery's temporary exhibition Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500 (6 July – 2 October 2011). One of its rooms recreates the interior of a Tuscan church from around 1500 complete with candlesticks and candle light, altar crucifix and religious music.
The exhibition explores altarpieces - their construction, commission and construal. It also tackles "the business of altarpiece design". It has far less to say about the business of altarpiece acquisition.
This silence is achieved by a careful process of exclusion, as is apparent in the room entitled "Dislocation". It is introduced as follows:
The objects in this room are all fragments of different altarpieces. Some altarpieces were
modified or updated quite early in their history to appeal to the prevailing tastes of the time.
The majority, however, were dismantled following the suppression of religious institutions
across Italy during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
Altarpieces that were not directly transferred to art galleries in Italy appeared on the art market,
encouraging the attention of scholars and collectors. This room examines the various methods
used by art historians, conservators and scientists to reconstruct and recontextualize these
This seemingly unremarkable statement of facts neglects to mention something that is raised in the accompanying catalogue. The chapter "Dislocation, dismembering and dismantling" begins with a reproduction of Niccolò di Liberatore's Christ on the Cross, and Other Scenes (1487). It was purchased by the National Gallery in 1881. Rumours that it had been stolen prior to its acquisition were "somewhat mysteriously" dropped (Nethersole 2011: 93). This example is used to illustrate "the potentially dubious machinations that sometimes characterised the sale of Italian pictures in the nineteenth century." The catalogue's author continues: "The art market responded to the demand for Italian "primitives" by ruthlessly hacking them up, extracting saleable elements and discarding the rest" (Nethersole 2011: 93).
So, instead of a backdrop of sacred music, might it not be more appropriate if the National Gallery's hallowed halls reverberated to the sound of saws cutting wood?
How do we account for the difference between the interpretation in the gallery and in the book? Well, opting to overlook the "dubious machinations" of the art market minimises the risk of gallery-goers asking awkward questions. Any critical reactions arise at a safe distance: namely when the interested visitor sits down at home to flick through the glossy new addition to their library.
Is this deception by interpretive design acceptable for a museum that markets itself under the mantra: "EXPLORE & REFLECT"? It is questionable whether the dissimulation evident in Devotion by Design accords with the museum's own Research code of conduct: "Good conduct in the context of research practice at the Gallery includes... [a]pplying the highest possible standards of integrity and professionalism, including observing relevant legal and ethical requirements."(1)
By marginalising legal and ethical questions the museum has presumably sought to safeguard the sacred aura of the museum. The realisation that the National Gallery has played a decidedly dubious role in the dislocation, dismembering and dismantling of religious artefacts is disturbing. But that should not make it a taboo topic for a museum visit.
The museum's curators clearly need to worship at the altar of the Church of Earthalujah and heed the words of the Rev Billy: "Blessed are you who disturb the customers, for you might be loving your neighbor."
The National Gallery ought to reward its visitors with just such disturbing love.
(1) National Gallery Code of Practice and Good Conduct in Research, accessed 17/09/2011 at, http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paintings/research/research-code-of-conduct
Elliott, Mark (2002) "Magic House: Sacred Space and Profane Behaviour in the Indian Museum, Calcutta",
World Art Symposium, School of World Art Studies and Museology at the University of East Anglia,
19/01, accessed 17/09/2011 at, http://www.uea.ac.uk/~t013/Sacred%20Places/Magic_house.htm
Nethersole, Scott (2011) Devotion by Design: Italian Altarpieces before 1500, London, National Gallery Company
Square in Stockholm dedicated to Wallenberg
Today's issue of the Swedish newspaper, Dagens Nyheter features an article entitled, "Humans are like parasites" (Björling 2011). This interesting idea is derived from a statement made by the American artist Andrea Zittel at the opening of a new exhibition of her work.
Zittel's view on human behaviour resonated with an item on the previous page of the same newspaper (Söderling 2011). This concerned a dispute between two historians. One is Ulf Zander, the person with whom I collaborated on the article, "Preoccupied by the Past – The Case of Estonia's Museum of Occupations" (Burch & Zander 2008). The other is Tanja Schult. She attended a seminar I gave at Stockholm University earlier this year. After my talk she kindly gave me a copy of her book, A Hero's Many Faces: Raoul Wallenberg in Contemporary Monuments (Schult 2009).
It is the existence of this publication that has given rise to claims of plagiarism. Zander stands accused of incorporating translated extracts into his own book, Hjälten: Raoul Wallenberg inför eftervärlden (Zander 2010). A panel responsible for investigating such cases has previously rejected this claim; but now the publisher of Zander's book has decided to withdraw it from sale.
Zander plans to reissue an amended version of his book under a new title. He dismisses the plagiarism claim, arguing that the extracts in question concern widely known facts rather than specifically attributable ideas. He also points out that Schult is mentioned both in his introduction and conclusion as well as being listed in the references. (One might add that a similar acknowledgement was not reciprocated in an extended article that Schult (2010) had published in the newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet.)
This affair is regrettable, not least because Zander and Schult were originally professional colleagues. Their partnership ended in acrimony, leading Zander to publish Hjälten (The Hero) on his own. Of wider interest is the sense in which this wrangle threatens to overshadow the importance of their research. Raoul Wallenberg's actions during the Second World War saved many Jews from the Holocaust. The commemoration of Wallenberg is therefore not only morally necessary, but also an excellent case to study from a public history perspective. Both Zander and Schult have done much to promote this cause and improve our understanding of the struggle for "ownership" of historical events and personalities. Such legacies of the past are negotiated and contested in the politics of the present. Ironically enough, there can be no better demonstration of this fact that the unfortunate conflict between the academics, Ulf Zander and Tanja Schult.
Björling, Sanna Torén (2011) "Människor är som parasiter", Dagens Nyheter, 08/09, Kultur, p.3
Burch, Stuart & Ulf Zander (2008) "Preoccupied by the Past – The Case of Estonia's Museum of Occupations",
Scandia: Tidskrift för Historisk Forskning, Vol. 74 (2), pp. 53-73
Schult, Tanja (2009) A Hero's Many Faces: Raoul Wallenberg in Contemporary Monuments, Palgrave Macmillan
Schult, Tanja (2010) "Monument med mänskliga proportioner", Svenska Dagbladet, 27/01, accessed 08/09/2011
Söderling, Fredrik (2011) "Känd historiker anklagad för fusk", Dagens Nyheter, 08/09, Kultur, p.2
Zander, Ulf (2010) Hjälten: Raoul Wallenberg inför eftervärlden, Forum för levande historia
The sculptor, Gustav Kraitz designed the memorial Hope (1998) on Raoul Wallenberg Walk adjacent to the United Nations building in New York. It features a bronze copy of Wallenberg's briefcase. This element is sited in other locations, including the Beth Shalom centre in Nottinghamshire (below).
This blog posting and its associated article seeks to explore the nature and purpose of academic writing. It does so by setting out the background to a peer reviewed paper that I wrote and which appeared fleetingly in the online journal Museum and Society. Shortly after publication the chair of the journal's editorial board, Professor Richard Sandell, agreed to remove it following complaints from other members of the board. The reasons for this unusual action are outlined. So too are the wider implications that this might have for the field of Museum Studies. These thoughts prompt additional reflection on some of the issues tackled in my initial paper which sought to scrutinise Sweden's national museum of modern and contemporary art, Moderna Museet. It achieved this through the prism of the artists Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska. Their collaborative practice was critiqued in connection with one of their patrons, the former director of Moderna Museet, Lars Nittve.
My abortive Museum and Society article is reproduced here in full and in its original form. This action mimics Cummings and Lewandowska's artwork, Errata (1996). Meaning "an error in writing or printing", the term "erratum" encapsulates my earlier paper. Richard Sandell quickly rectified this "error" by expunging it from the journal over which he currently presides. Its reappearance here constitutes an unofficial and undoubtedly unwelcome erratum to Museum and Society. Its presence is also intended as an erratum both to the practice of Cummings and Lewandowska and to the career of Lars Nittve. As with the original paper, my actions lack any endorsement from the named individuals or institutions. It is an act of parasitism that apes the so-called institutional critique of artists such as Cummings and Lewandowska: one that seeks to expose the positions of certain actors in the museum field – be they museum directors, artists or academics.
Burch, Stuart (2011) "A Museum Director and His Go-Betweens: Lars Nittve's Patronage of Neil Cummings and Marysia Lewandowska", Museum and Society, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 34-48, accessed 17 May 2011 at, http://www.le.ac.uk/ms/m&s/Issue%2025/burch.pdf.
Burch, Stuart (2011) "A Journal Editor and His Go-Betweens: Richard Sandell and the University of Leicester’s Museum and Society", uploaded 05/08 at http://www.stuartburch.com
The Western Mail reports that a painting owned by the National Museum of Wales previously thought to be "a fake" is, in fact, "almost certainly genuine".
See: Evans, Gareth (2011) "Doubts held over Turner painting vanish in the mist; after 50 years art work at museum is declared genuine", The Western Mail, 01/08, p.15, accessed 01/08/2011 at, http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2011/08/01/doubts-held-over-turner-painting-vanish-in-the-mist-91466-29154179/ (text available here)
The reporting of this story is worth considering in detail.
We are told at the outset that the painting entitled Off Margate was purchased by the museum in 1908. However, later on, Beth McIntyre (a curator at the museum) is cited as saying that the "painting was part of a large bequest to the museum in 1951 and shortly after it arrived, an expert questioned its authenticity. In those days, working out authorship wasn't a question of science as it can be today, it was a question of 'this doesn't quite feel right'."
However, unnamed "experts" working at Tate in London have now declared that Off Margate is "entirely characteristic" of the work of J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851). Yet we are not told how they reached this decision: was it "a question of science" or just their "expert" eyes that determined if it was authentic or not? It seems that artistic style played a key role in questioning the painting's authenticity in the first place. McIntyre remarks that, "while it was identified as a Turner, the 'late' style was questioned at the time.” This was despite the fact that the "painting had good historic provenance" meaning that McIntyre and her colleagues "could trace its ownership back a long way". To what extent did this supporting evidence influence those unnamed "experts" at Tate?
Interestingly, the Western Mail journalist who wrote this newspaper article chose to add the following statement:
"Turner remains one of Britain’s most celebrated artists. His work is instantly recognisable
and remains, some 160 years after his death, among the most sought-after in the world."
If his work is "instantly recognisable", why was it so difficult to decide if Turner painted Off Margate?
We are told that it was McIntyre who thought of asking "Tate experts" to examine the work. This, adds the journalist, was a "decision [that] paid off." But in the article this "payment" is expressed solely in terms of financial rather than artistic value:
"The precise value of Off Margate is unclear, but a painting by Turner depicting a
Welsh castle drenched in the orange glow of a sunrise last year fetched more
than £500,000 at auction. The watercolour sketch over pencil of Flint Castle,
which dates from the early 1830s, sold to a private collector at Sotheby's for £541,250.
A piece by another English artist depicting what some regard as a quintessentially
English view of Wales – William Dyce's Welsh Landscape with Two
Women Knitting – sold for more than £500,000 in 2009."
Whilst we are informed about the potential auction price for Off Margate, we are not told how much the museum paid for it (assuming that it did indeed purchase the painting in 1908).
The Western Mail's framing of the story, with its inclusions, exclusions and points of emphasis really matters given that recent changes to the UK's Code of Ethics "now allows financially motivated disposal... in exceptional circumstances" (section 6.14).
The story of Off Margate touches on important museological issues regarding the use and interpretation of objects; the role of "experts" and of how decisions are reached when it comes to authenticity. This leads to additional questions: Were doubts about the painting conveyed to the public from the 1950s until today or did it hang in the gallery without comment? Or was it locked away in the museum store? What additional "fakes" might be similarly forgotten about in the "worthless" reserve collection? Does the museum own other artworks of debatable authenticity? Are there examples of works that the museum considered to be genuine but have later been labelled "fake"? Do experts always agree and, if not, how do we decide who to believe? What impact do technological developments have on opinion-making? And what role do personal contacts play in getting the support of "experts"?
Instead, by focusing just on money, the Western Mail newspaper encourages this sort of comment:
Who cares: it's either art or not.
Oh! sorry it's either money or not.
siarad 9:27 AM on August 1, 2011
This was the only reader's comment that followed the article at the time I accessed it. But "siarad" shouldn't be blamed for reducing the Museum of Wales's art to a question of money. The fault lies with the way the Western Mail newspaper has framed the story. It encourages its readers to look upon the National Museum of Wales as primarily a place of financial rather than cultural capital.
In 2008 I contributed to "The Unexhibitable: A Conversation", Exhibitionist (Vol.27. No.2. Fall 2008, p.7). This was in response to the question: What, if anything, is "unexhibitable"? I based my answer on an article about police museums that I had published in the UK's Museums Journal ("Right to Remain Silent?"). In it I concluded that, "when it comes to the question of policing today, it is clear that the traditional approach of an exhibition open to self-guided museum visitors does not work". By this I meant that museums dealing with policing and dependent on the support of local police forces are unable to address contentious contemporary issues.
Thinking about the limits of exhibitability helps to draw our attention to the often invisible constraints of museum practice. Of course, notions of acceptability are time and place specific: that which might be unproblematic in one museum at one historical moment could be unthinkable in another context. The work and ideas of the Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei springs to mind here.
Albert C. Barnes (1872-1951) made a fortune in the pharmaceutical industry and used it to establish a museum in his home town of Philadelphia. He first launched a foundation in 1922 to "promote the advancement of education and the appreciation of the fine arts". His collection of primarily 19th and early 20th century European paintings moved to a purpose-built museum in 1925. Access was restricted and it was only really in the 1960s that the general public gained admittance.
Financial problems that arose in the 1990s have now culminated in the closure of the museum in readiness for its relocation from the suburbs of Philadelphia to a new site in the city centre. This goes against the expressed wishes of the founder and will result in the loss of the carefully-considered "wall ensembles" arranged by Barnes and intended to remain untouched in perpetuity. These losses will be offset by increased accessibility and, hopefully, a secure financial future for the collection.
The Barnes Museum therefore raises lots of important questions, including such issues as the nature of collecting; interpretation and display; continuity and change; the role of museums in society plus the ethical and legal debates that can arise as a result.
The new Barnes Museum is due to open in early 2012 - see http://www.barnesfoundation.org
The National Gallery in London has curated an exhibition about its first director, Sir Charles Lock Eastlake (1793-1865): Art for the Nation: Sir Charles Eastlake at the National Gallery (National Gallery, 27 July - 30 October 2011).
It is reviewed in: Bates, Stephen (2011) "National Gallery's pioneering collector celebrated with exhibition", The Guardian, 24/07, accessed 24/07/2011 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/24/national-gallerys-pioneering-collector-exhibition
The exhibition and the newspaper coverage remind us of the difficulties that arise when we judge past actions by today's standards. This becomes clear as soon as we compare Eastlake's behaviour with the Museums Association's Code of Ethics for Museums (2007, available at: http://www.museumsassociation.org/ethics/code-of-ethics):
"Essentially the National Gallery we have today is the result of Eastlake" (Bates 2011)
- Avoid behaviour that could be construed as asserting personal ownership or control of collections or any part of them (Code of Ethics, 1.3)
"Eastlake... became used to waiting for, and then haggling with, Italian art owners - and to clambering up ladders, or hauling pictures into the light to see whether they were worth buying" (Bates 2011)
- Acquire items honestly and responsibly (Code of Ethics, 5.0)
"He was not above using subterfuge to get round bureaucracy" (Bates 2011)
- Use agreed procedures for taking the final decision to acquire an item (Code of Ethics, 5.21)
"Eastlake would write letters to colleagues about his acquisitions to their home addresses, rather than to the gallery, so as not to alert foreign authorities to what he had bought."
- Make information publicly accessible (Code of Ethics, 9.3)
On 17th July, a visitor to the National Gallery vandalised a painting by Poussin. Jonathan Jones used this as an opportunity to call for the abolition of free entry to museums (see my post "Poussin vandalised", 19/07/2011). There is, however, no logical connection between these two attacks (one physical the other conceptual). This is also the case when it comes to entrance charges and the question of deaccessioning, i.e. the sale or disposal of museum collections - an issue that Jones took up here:
Jones, Jonathan (2011) "Museums should feel free to charge admission", The Guardian, 21/07, accessed 23/07/2011 at, http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2011/jul/21/museums-charging-admission-entry-fees
Jones has therefore sought to mask his preconceived, subjective point of view behind what appears to be a reasoned response to two current events (namely vandalism and cuts to state funding).
Attitudes towards the financing and management of museums vary. This is why we need to aim for consensus based on genuine debate. However, for this to succeed we must be on the lookout for poorly argued, prejudiced dogma masquerading as balanced journalism. For an excellent example of this we need look no further than Jonathan Jones's thoughts on whether or not we should pay to enter our national museums.
Illicit trade is a global threat to cultural heritage. It is also closely linked to other criminal activities such as people and drugs trafficking plus the illegal trade in arms. A case in point is the arrest in Serbia of Goran Hadžić, a man suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the former Yugoslavia. He was apprehended in July 2011 thanks to his botched attempt to sell a painting purported to be by the Italian artist, Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920). (See Tanner, Adam & Aleksandar Vasovic (2011) "Stolen art held clue to Serbia war crimes arrest", Reuters, 20/07, accessed 20/07/2011 at, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/20/us-finearts-serbia-modigliani-idUSTRE76J41920110720.)
This affair reminds us that museums must at all times conduct themselves in an ethical manner. ICOM's Code of Ethics for Museums (2006) explains why:
4.5 Display of Unprovenanced Material
Museums should avoid displaying or otherwise using material of questionable origin or lacking provenance. They should be
aware that such displays or usage can be seen to condone and contribute to the illicit trade in cultural property.
- available at: http://archives.icom.museum/ethics.html
But more than that, in accepting items of questionable provenance, museums would be helping the likes of Goran Hadžić to evade justice.
Para, jämsides med.
En annan sort.
Bevingaren, 1980: 90
Even a parasite like me should be permitted to feed at the banquet of knowledge
I once posted comments as Bevingaren at guardian.co.uk
Note All parasitoids are parasites, but not all parasites are parasitoids
Parasitoid "A parasite that always ultimately destroys its host" (Oxford English Dictionary)
I live off you
And you live off me
And the whole world
Lives off everybody
See we gotta be exploited
By somebody, by somebody, by somebody
<I live off you>
Germ Free Adolescents
is a short step.
The word is
now a virus.
key words: architecture | archive | art | commemoration | design | ethics | framing | freedom of speech | heritage | heroes and villains | history | illicit trade | landscape | media | memorial | memory | museum | music | nordic | nottingham trent university | parasite | politics | science fiction | shockmolt | statue | stuart burch | tourism | words |