Many museums, from the Louvre to the Barnes Foundation to the Modern, have send parts of their collections on the road, at least in part to earn some money. The city of Glasgow in Scotland had such plans for the Burrell Collection, whose 8,000 works of art were given to the city under a 1944 deed of gift — one that prohibits its exhibition overseas.
But, last January, with the 30-year-old building that displays the collection in need of repair, “estimated to cost millions of pounds,” according to The Herald Scotland, trustees decided to go to Parliament for relief from that restriction — since the museum would be closed for years between 2016 and 2020.
Not a good idea says Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery — citing the “deplorable tendency” to ignore the risks, again according to the Herald.
In a candid submission to the Scottish Parliament committee considering The Burrell Collection (Lending And Borrowing) Bill, Dr Nicholas Penny, the director of the National Gallery in London, says moving works of art has led to several major accidents, incidents and damage to works, many of which have not come to public attention.
Dr Penny said he would be prepared to describe the incidents in confidence to a “single trustworthy individual nominated by Scottish Government” if the committee desired.
His comments left the city’s museum officials “flabbergasted.” Here’s more:
Dr Penny wrote: “What is very often forgotten in discussions of this kind is the moral advantage and tangible (if not always immediate) benefit of a declared preference for honouring the wishes of the donor. Real concern for the future is always more persuasive in those who have a genuine feeling for the past.”
He said the financial benefits of touring art collections are also “greatly exaggerated” and did not lead to any significant increase in visitors to the galleries touring the works.
He added: “There has always been much talk of ‘profile raising’ to palliate the mercenary motive or to compensate for a disappointing fee … it would not be appropriate for me to say the Burrell should not engage in such an exhibition, but the interests of those encouraging it and brokering it should be examined very severely – they are not always obvious. Loans for fees are, it should be remembered, a short term fix.”
Hat tip to ArtWatch UK for calling my attention to this item.
Penny has been outspoken before: I mentioned one instance here about a year ago, when he lamented the similarity of contemporary art collections and the lamentable lack of critical debate on contemporary art — both of which I heartily agree with.
On loans, I am wary of the damage done to art in travels (but obviously many, many things are moved around safely). Penny said he knows of ”10 major accidents in transported art during his 27 years working in museums and galleries.” Shouldn’t they be made public, if they occurred at public museums?
I’ve visited Glasgow, but not the Burrell Collection. Since its focus is late medieval and early Renaissance art (including Cranach’s Judith, above left, and Bellini’s Madonna, at right). I’m inclined to side with Penny.
And I again applaud his willingness to stake a public stance on such issues, which too many directors hold back on.