NPG closes for fashion show

February 15 2018

Image of NPG closes for fashion show

Picture: NPG

I can't quite believe the news in Martin Bailey's story (in The Art Newspaper) that the National Portrait Gallery in London is closing for a whole day, so that a fashion company (Erdem) can host an event. As Martin writes, on a Monday in February, around 5,000 people would usually visit the gallery. That'll be a lot of disappointed people on the doorstep in St Martin's Place. 

The NPG say that they need the cash. That as a charity, needing to raise over 70% of their income themselves (ie, not from the government) they will need to exploit their premises for events. We are not told how much Erdem will be paying for the day (I have asked, but don't expect an answer - it'll probably be deemed 'commercially sensitive' information).

But a whole day? If the NPG's answer to difficult fundraising conditions is - close the whole place, then it is demonstrating a woeful lack of imagination, and a complete disregard for the people it serves. What is the National Portrait Gallery for? It's a public museum, with publicly owned art, funded over decades by public funds. It is our museum, not something that should be arbitrarily closed as a venue for hire. But these days (and here of course I'm going to mention image fees again) it appears the NPG is being run by a bunch of venture capitalists, desperate to squeeze as much money out of the asset they've just acquired. 

It's easy to see this as a thin end of the wedge moment. The NPG may say; 'this is a one-off'. But in reality it's unlikely to be. How corrosive will be the impact on those 5,000 people who will turn up, expecting the NPG to be open, only to be told that they can't go in, because someone else has got a bigger chequebook? How many others will hear of the news, and then not plan a visit to the NPG in future, in case it's arbitrarily closed? There is a risibly small notice about the closure on the NPG's 'visit' page (above), and nothing on their homepage. It's as if they're hoping nobody's going to notice. The whole thing is pathetic; an unprecedented low from a new generation of museum bureaucrats who have lost touch with what public museums should be for.

Update - I also can't believe the trustees agreed to this. What were you thinking?

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