British university art collections

August 28 2017

Image of British university art collections

Picture: Burlington

The latest edition of The Burlington Magazine draws attention, in its editorial, to the excellence and value of Britain's university museums. The magazine has compiled a survey of new acquisitions by these institutions (excluding the major ones like Oxford and Cambridge). The works collected are, says the magazine, overwhelmingly 20th C or contemporary, but this is not surprising as, 'most of these museums, like their universities, are creations of the past century.'

More surprising is the fact that many universities don't make enough effort to use their collections when it comes to teaching:

It is dispiriting that so few departments of art history use the resources of their university’s collections in any systematic way. The Whitworth shows what can be done: in 2016–17 undergraduates and graduates of the Department of Art History and Visual Studies assisted with the exhibition Marcantonio Raimondi, Raphael and the Image Multiplied,1 and the museum’s curators have for forty years taught on the University’s MA in Art Gallery and Museum Studies. Elsewhere, curators reported to us that the art history courses in their universities failed to encourage the close involvement with objects that a museum offers. This disconnection is reflected in funding. In 2016 a funding review by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) resulted in an annual investment for higher education museums, set for 2017–18 at £10.7 million. Almost four-fifths of this (£8.5 million) was allocated to just four universities – London, Oxford, Cambridge and Manchester. Only five of the museums we contacted for this Supplement receive HEFCE funding – the Barber, the Whitworth, the Sainsbury Centre, the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds and the Hatton Gallery at Newcastle.

As AHN has said before, much of this is due to the object-phobic way in which much art history is taught at universities. It's amazing really to think that this disconnect between academic art history and museum-based art history is still so pronounced.

Elsewhere in the new Burlington there are articles on Carlo Maratti, Paula Modersohn-Becker, and Paul Gauguin.

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