Art without Frontiers: Art Fund Debate 2012

Leading art-world figures took part in an illuminating conference on the UK’s role in a vastly expanding art world.

Britain is widely seen as the global art hub and speakers explored the complex art-world ecosystem, and the UK’s position within it, in the light of developing art centres across the world, particularly China.

They detailed the perfect storm of events that precipitated a “golden age” in the last two decades. Artists Michael Craig-Martin and Marc Quinn spoke of the talent which emerged from UK art schools in the 1980s and the recent surge of public interest in contemporary art, while Sir Paul Ruddock, chairman of the Victoria and Albert Museum, reinforced the vital importance of government investment in the arts boom in his keynote speech. He and Robin Vousden, the director of the Gagosian Gallery in London, also spoke of a remarkable confluence of visionary museum directors, collectors and art dealers in the 1970s and 1980s which changed the UK scene.

As Iwona Blazwick, director of the Whitechapel Gallery, pointed out, artists and curators have sought alternative histories of art from across the world in recent decades, and Alain Seban, Chairman of the Pompidou Centre in Paris, enthused about the opportunity this gives us to create new universal museums. The chair of Sotheby’s in Asia, Patti Wong, spoke of China’s position as the most valuable auction economy in the world, and of the particular tastes in both Chinese and western art informing that vast market.

But there were notes of caution: government funding remains crucial and London’s position as a financial centre is vital to the health of the commercial gallery sector. Meanwhile, Craig-Martin expressed concern about poorly funded and overcrowded art schools. The consensus was that London is at the core of an exciting, hugely diverse art world—but while it is a rich ecosystem, it is also a fragile one.

Download Ben Luke's in-depth summary of the debate

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