The relationship between public museums and the art market is something that I’ve been working on a quite a few years now – the recent exhibition ‘SOLD! The Great British Antiques Story’ at The Bowes Museum was a key example of where some of this research is ending up. If you missed SOLD! (it ran from 26 January to 5 May 2019) it had a very particular (and unusual) narrative for a museum exhibition – i.e. it presented the museum objects as specific articulations of the art market – the objects even had prices on them – sacrilege! Anyway, it’s long forgotten now, but I thought the MGHG community might be interested to hear that the ‘project’ continues;
The latest project is called ‘Year of the Dealer’ and the new project website is being constructed (thanks to Peter Edwards in University of Leeds, Arts, Humanities & Cultures Faculty IT team) – you can see the new website here – Year of the Dealer website
The ‘Year of the Dealer’ project is a collaboration between the University of Leeds, the University of Southampton, 7 major national and regional museums (The Victoria & Albert Museum, The National Museum, Scotland, The Ashmolean Museum, The Lady Lever Art Gallery, The Bowes Museum, Temple Newsam, Preston Park Museum and the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery), together with a regional community theatre (The Witham, Barnard Castle) and one of the UK’s leading antique dealing businesses (H. Blairman & Sons). The project runs from 1 June 2019 until 31 May 2020 and is an ‘Impact and Engagement’ project funded (£100,000) by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). Over the next 12 months the Year of the Dealer will be organizing a series of events, activities and museum object trails, using the research arising from the AHRC funded (£231,592) research project ‘Antique Dealers: the British Antique Trade in the 20th century’ AH/K0029371/1 (2013-2016).
Through these events and activities the project aims to draw further attention to the relationships between the art market and public museums and to share expertise, experience and perspectives among stakeholders and to increase public engagement with the significance of the history of the antique trade in British cultural life.
The Year of the Dealer will reveal new and previously marginalised stories of world-renowned and familiar museum objects through the co-production of a series of 7 museum ‘hidden history’ trails; each trail will have a curated selection of up to 20 museum objects foregrounding the history of antique dealers in the biography of the museum object. So, for example, at The Bowes Museum, we will be drawing renewed attention to some of the museum objects by telling the story about the antique dealers who sold the object to the museum – this rare pair of gilded bronze lamps, made by William Collins in 1823………..
………………..will be reinterpreted through the Year of the Dealer trail in the museum as a pair of lamps sold to the Bowes Museum in 1960 by Stanley J. Pratt, a leading antique dealer then trading in ultra-fashionable Mount Street, London. How Pratt acquired the lamps and how they ended up at The Bowes Museum will be key elements in the ‘story’ about the objects. Stanley Pratt came from a well-known family of antique dealers dating back into the 19th century; indeed the Pratt family of dealers were established, according to their own publicity, in 1860, and so sold the lamps to The Bowes Museum in their centenary year!
Besides the 7 museum trails, the project will also stage 4 art market themed knowledge exchange workshops and 3 public engagement ‘In Conversation’ events, hosted by the partner museums. The workshops will consider the relationships between the art market and public museums, drawing in historical and contemporary perspectives and will also consider the challenges and future opportunities for the relationships between museums and the art market. The ‘In Conversation’ events invite key art market professionals, museum professionals, academics and commentators to discuss and debate the subject of the art market and public museums – all the events will be free, thanks to the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funding.
Other activities as part of the Year of the Dealer project include museum front of house staff and volunteer training workshops at each of the 7 partner museums to ensure that the project research and objectives are disseminated and cascaded to the front-line interface with the public.
We will also be re-staging the play ‘Quinney’s (1914) at the Witham Theatre, Barnard Castle, and are organizing an associated workshop, ‘Dealing with Authenticity’ at The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle.
‘Quinney’s’ is the story of the fictional antique dealer Joseph Quinney. The play and the workshop aim to critically engage the general public with the central role that ‘authenticity’ has played in the art market, and to explore and critique the trope of the antique dealer as a problematic character, often associated with fakes and forgeries and the ‘love of money’. The workshop will be interdisciplinary in scope, drawing on theatre and performance studies and material culture studies as well as the history of antique dealers.
As you can see, there are plans for a very rich series of events, activities and collaborations over the course of the Year of the Dealer project – but we have a great team to help deliver the project – my colleague from University of Southampton, Dr Eleanor Quince, and Vanessa Jones, our project administrator, and my colleagues at the University of Leeds, Professor Jonathan Pitches and Dr George Rodosthenous, and of course all of the curators and staff at the all 10 collaborating partners and a small team of PhD research students to help keep the project on track!……it’s no doubt going to be exhausting, but we hope it will also be a really engaging project…and one that will have real Impact!
We hope to see you at some of the events – we already have some events fixed in the project calendar…so do keep an eye on the project website and the antique dealers research blog.
Dr Mark Westgarth
MGHG Newsletter Editor
(Part of this blog post was posted in the antiquedealersblog)