Is it time to question the term 'Old Master'?

June 29 2020

Image of Is it time to question the term 'Old Master'?

Picture: The Guardian

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Guardian published a story this weekend highlighting that some galleries and museums are increasingly uneasy about using the term 'Old Master'.

The article published a quote from a political magazine Shout Out UK, the self-ascribed 'voice of the next generation', who claim the term contains a “uncomfortable combination of hierarchical, racial and sexist connotations”.

The article includes many voices from the artworld arguing both for and against. Amongst them, the head of Tate Modern Frances Morris expressed:

“I think we should question its use and what it tells us. I would like to see it replaced by something else,”

On the other hand, Victoria Siddall, Global Director of the Frieze art fairs, advocates an expansion of the term rather than its abolition. Siddall highlighted the likes of artist Artemisia Gentileschi as a prime example of an indisputable 'Old Master'.

Attention is also drawn to the upcoming exhibition Women Modern Masters at The Scottish Gallery in Edinburgh, a venture specifically designed to challenge the term. So too is an upcoming exhibition at the Wallace Collection Forgotten Masters, drawing attention to overlooked artists commissioned by the officials of the East India Company.

The auction houses are already ahead of the game in regard to finding suitable replacements. Christie's have been emphasising the term 'Classic' instead of 'Old Master' for many years now.

For what it's worth, I would rather spend my time researching and bringing more female artists back into the light than get too caught up with the imperfect nature of categories. Later this year I'll be finishing off my doctoral thesis which will draw attention to a completely forgotten yet highly accomplished Victorian lady artist and interior designer. I look forward to sharing more in due course.

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