Recognising achievements

In his Art Quarterly column, our Director, Stephen Deuchar, praises Cornelia Parker, the Museum of the Year shortlist and the response of art lovers to the Van Dyck appeal.

I am very grateful to celebrated artist Cornelia Parker for agreeing to guest-edit this issue of Art Quarterly (before new editor, Claire Wrathall, starts work in the autumn). Private Eye rightly pillories the relentless declaration of ‘national treasures’ so I am prevented from proposing that dubious accolade for her here, but this really does need saying: Parker is one of the most consistently innovative and admired artists of her generation, a major figure in British art for the past 25 years, loved by peers and public alike, and feted across the world.

She is also an Art Fund member and has somehow generously managed to devote time to editing this magazine despite the demands of numerous other projects, including a forthcoming major exhibition in Manchester. The publication by Thames and Hudson last year of a major survey of her career (by Iwona Blazwick and Bruce Ferguson, with a foreword by Yoko Ono) has brought her work to even wider public attention than before, and we are delighted now to be revealing a little more about her interests through the articles she has commissioned for us. The work on the front cover (pictured) is one of an extraordinary group of works made following a recent visit to Israel and Palestine.

Creative museum professionals

It is commonplace in the worlds of theatre and film to recognise the achievements of directors, producers and designers alongside the starring cast, yet in the museums and galleries sector the only heroes we tend to recognise are the artists and makers, past and present, of the exhibits within. Indeed, there is some sense within traditional museum quarters that it would be somehow impertinent or disrespectful to praise anyone else.

But one theme that cropped up repeatedly in the shortlisting discussion of the judging panel for the 2014 Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year was the very evident impact of particular individuals (be they curators or directors) on the quality and originality of what was being newly presented to the visiting public. Not only do UK museums now operate to some of the highest standards in the world, but we are also very fortunate to have some great creative professionals in our midst. So, as well as celebrating the quality museums and galleries themselves, we are delighted to be drawing attention through the 2014 Prize to the accomplishments of Hillary Williams at the Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Ralph Rugoff at the Hayward Gallery, John Lipiett at the Mary Rose Museum, Paul Greenhalgh at the Sainsbury Centre, Penelope Curtis at Tate Britain, Peter Murray at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and their respective, talented teams.

Van Dyck acquired for the public

On 1 May came the announcement that the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had settled matters with a magnificent grant of £6.3m, enabling Anthony van Dyck’s last self-portrait finally to be transferred into the ownership of the National Portrait Gallery after a five-month campaign. In all, over £1.4m was raised from 10,000 individuals – half of whom were Art Fund members. With the £1.2m initially tabled by the Art Fund and the National Portrait Gallery to launch the campaign, a £1m donation from the Monument Trust and £200,000 from the Garfield Weston Foundation, together we raised an impressive £4m. Of course this great show of support would have been in vain had not the trustees of the HLF reacted so decisively to the gallery’s determination to bring this most important work into the national collection. For their generous response to the very apparent (and financially proven) public enthusiasm for the picture, we offer the heartfelt thanks of our members and of art lovers everywhere.

Meanwhile, the Art Fund is pleased to be supporting a special tour of the picture to the following six museums nationally over the coming three years: Turner Contemporary, Margate; Manchester Art Gallery; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle upon Tyne; and Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh.

This column appears in the Summer 2014 issue of Art Quarterly. If you would like to subscribe to the magazine, please buy a National Art Pass.

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