'Gathering a history of black women'

July 31 2018

Video: Tate

Here's a good interview with the British artist Sonia Boyce, filmed by Tate, on her work exploring the representation of black women in art. There's also a BBC4 documentary on Boyce's new exhibition here

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

July 31 2018

Video: National Gallery

Here's another good video from the National Gallery on the conservation of their newly acquired Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. Someone needs to put Larry Keith - the National Gallery's head of conservation - on the telly; he does an excellent job here of explaining a complex process in an accessible way. 

Museum image fees (ctd.)

July 25 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: AHN reader

There's a fruity letter in today's Telegraph from Viscountess Bridgeman, on both photography in museums, and reproduction fees. The letter was prompted by my being prevented from taking a photograph in the National Gallery of Scotland last week.

I'm not really sure where to begin with this. But I think the first thing to note is that she doesn't - even in her sign off - admit to being the founder of Bridgeman Images, which of course sells museum image licences. Quite a vested interest. I'm also wondering if directly accusing me of using photographs I may have taken on my phone in museums in 'commercial publications' is in fact defamatory, since I have done no such thing.

But at least it shows that the reason museums still try and prohibit photography is purely because they want to make money from selling images, which as we all know, doesn't work anyway. It's a shame that museums (and Lady Bridgeman) think we museum snappers are all con artists, out for a free image to stick on our best-selling range of tea towels. But those of us who have been leapt on by museum warders for taking a photo knows how this feels.

I ought to write a response to The Telegraph; if anyone can think of any zingers, let me know.

As for her suggestion that I should give away my illustrated publications, then welcome to AHN.

Update - a reader writes:

Lady Bridgeman has made a career profiting from other peoples images - including museums. Indeed, if she is so concerned about the financial solvency of such important public institutions, Bridgeman Images would be a charitable, non-profit organisation.

The fact she also founded the Artist's Collecting Society to collect Artist's Resale Right speaks volumes, as does her representation of that society on the British Copyright Council. Further, I was also interested to learn she sits on the Intellectual Property Advisory Committee. Given her personal involvement in such bodies, you might think her letter to you might have been a little more astute.

Update II - the Telegraph put my response in (somewhat edited):


Viscountess Bridgeman (Letters, July 25) suggests that the only way Britain's under-funded museums can raise extra revenue is by selling images of 'their' collections. She supports a ban on photography in museums. 

First, these paintings belong to the public, not museums. Secondly, the evidence is that most UK museums do not raise meaningful revenue from image sales - for many it is lossmaking. Thirdly, museums would make more money if they made full use of social media to bring in more visitors, and that involves allowing photography for personal use.

Finally, museum image fees make academic publications prohibitively expensive. The fee for an image of the National Gallery's Fighting Temeraire by Turner (out of copyright) in an educational book of just 2,500 copies is £158. That fee is payable through Lady Bridgeman's company, Bridgeman Images.

I see in a Guardian interview that Lady Bridgeman says her company gives '50%' back to museums. So that's £79 to her company, and £79 to the National Gallery.

Update III - I didn't realise that Bridgeman has a deal with the Royal Collection too. The whole image fee hustle is underpinned by naked commercialism.

Update IV - an economist writes:

The image fee question isn't a matter of crass commercialism which you said recently. It is a matter of unsound commercial and professional judgement by museums. Bridgeman [crass and commercial] makes a profit on the fees for art from thousands of collections, so it has a substantial economic interest in image fees. Most of the individual collections derive very little from such fees, and the amounts earned might be offset by direct costs and by the effect of limiting access to their collections.  In addition, there is the question of the public purpose for national collections. Private collections are welcome to derive revenue from whatever legal sources are available to them.   But public collections receive public funding, which creates a communal obligation, and they are exempt charitable organizations. Image fees, if charged, therefore, should offset their public funding. Were that approach taken by government (local and national), the museums would quickly amend their accounts to show that they don't profit from the image fees, which then leaves the question, why collect them.

The second major point is the incidence of such fees.   Bridgeman and others would have the public believe that the fees are a museum's share of commercial revenues from goods and publishing, and indeed some fees are associated with commercially profitable activities, but the majority or a substantial share of fees come from academic, other educational, and public service activities.   The incidence of these fees is on students, scholars, and educational institutions, precisely the group who should be subsidized rather than charged.   Further, some scholars acknowledge that they can recapture some fees through foundation or public grants, however this simply shifts the incidence of the fees to charitable and public entities. Then there is the substantial administrative burden on everyone.

And another reader writes:

Your efforts in the whole business of reproduction fees are VERY much appreciated. These costs caused me real problems with research and publication earlier in my career, and it rankles today that I’m often undertaking unpaid research on a gallery’s art works, yet have to pay the gallery a fee in order to publish it. As for Viscountess Bridgeman’s letter – the cheek! And indeed I know just how embarrassing as well as annoying it can be to be treated like a con artist or criminal when taking a photo in a gallery. 

Restoring Rosa Bonheur's 'Horse Fair'

July 24 2018

Video: National Gallery

Here's another good conservation video from the National Gallery. Quite a significant change, even though it's just undoing the effects of a previous conservation effort, in the 1950s.

Job Opportunity!

July 24 2018

Image of Job Opportunity!

Picture: Apollo

Apollo magazine is looking for an assistant editor. More here, deadline 8th August. Good luck!

Facebook censors Rubens

July 24 2018

Video: Visit Flanders

The good folk at Visit Flanders fell foul of Facebook's 'no nudity rule' when they tried to use paintings by Rubens to promote tourism in Rubens' home town of Antwerp. But in the spirit of 'all publicity is good publicy', they've turned it to their advantage, with some pushback in the form of the above video. More here

We need to send the algorithms on an art history course.

The 'National Gallery 27' (ctd.)

July 24 2018

Image of The 'National Gallery 27' (ctd.)

Picture: Guardian

There's more coverage of the sacked National Gallery lecturers' case in The Guardian. The crowdfunding page has raised over £25k in just a couple of weeks. If the National Gallery is clever, it'll settle generously before the case comes to court. But that would require thinking outside the box, which I'm not sure it can do.

John Constable; not miserable

July 24 2018

Image of John Constable; not miserable

Picture: V&A

Here's a clever bit of research; the V&A's senior curator of paintings, Dr Mark Evans, has been able to prove that some of John Constable's most dramatic watercolour landscapes of Hampstead are faithful depictions of the weather at the time. It had been thought that the moody skies were perhaps a reflection of Constable's mood at the time. But Dr Evans was able to trace weather records by one of Constable's neighbours, and matched these to the exact time and date inscribed by the artist on the back of the paintings. More here

Art and poetry (ctd.)

July 24 2018

Image of Art and poetry (ctd.)

Picture: Musee des Beaux Arts, Brussels, 'Landscape with the fall of Icarus', by Peter Brueghel the Elder.

I was ambling through the Oxford Book of English Verse last night, and came across W.H. Auden's Musée des Beaux Arts. Regular readers know that I'm keen on art historical poetry, but it's a small genre, and I think Auden's poem must be the best:

Michael Jackson at the NPG

July 20 2018

Video: NPG

When Nicholas Cullinan became director of the National Portrait Gallery in London, he promised us some interesting changes. His new exhibition at the NPG - and I mean really 'his', for Cullinan has curated this one himself - is all about Michael Jackson. The NPG hails it as 'the exhibition of the year', which I suspect it isn't, though many critics seem to lie it. The Great Waldemar did, here. On the other hand, the Evening Standard gives it two stars, and calls it 'confused'.

I don't need to go into why Jackson was a controversial figure. But I see in the credits of the video above that the exhibition is produced "with the co-operation of the Michael Jackson Estate". I wonder whether the National Portrait Gallery felt sufficiently able to demonstrate any critical distance from its subject. I must wait to see the show, but the video above, as well as the Gallery's online text, suggests not.

The show is on until 21st October. 

Weenix catalogue raisonné

July 20 2018

Video: Spy Newspapers of Maryland

Did you know that there's a new two volume catalogue raisonné on the works of the father and son artists, Jan Baptist Weenix & Jan Weenix? It's written by Dr Anke Van Wagenberg, who is also Chief Curator at the Academy Art Museum in Maryland, and in the video above she is talking a little about the Weenixs' career. Says the publisher:

This book fills a gap in art history and throws new light on the appreciation of Dutch art. Since 2004, hundreds of paintings have been documented as either Weenix I or Weenix II. For centuries, attributions had been confused because of the two artists’ similar subject choices and (at least for a time) similar style. Following the death of his father (and teacher), Jan gradually changed his style to conform to the more courtly taste of the late 17th and early 18th century.

This first ever published monograph on Jan Baptist Weenix and his son Jan Weenix includes over 500 paintings.

You can order the book here, or on Amazon here. It looks to be well worth it for the very reasonable price of €95, or £85. Normally these catalogues can cost hundreds of pounds.

Of course, anyone who writes such a fantastic resource as a catalogue raisonné is automatically enrolled as an AHN 'Hero of Art History'; bravo Anke!   

Artemesia heads for the National Gallery (ctd.)

July 20 2018

Video: National Gallery

Here's a new video from the National Gallery's head of conservation, Larry Keith, about how he and his team will be cleaning the Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait. It's excellent that the National Gallery is making this much effort to showcase their new acquisition, and especially that they're putting the focus on restoration. This is an area that really connects with new audiences, as it allows you a satisfying revelation as the old varnish comes off. It's why we make such a big deal of it in Britain's Lost Masterpieces, and why The Burlington stressed the importance of discussing paintings' condition in an editorial recently.  

'Rembrandt: Britain's discovery of the master' (ctd.)

July 19 2018

Image of 'Rembrandt: Britain's discovery of the master' (ctd.)

Picture: BG

There’s an excellent new exhibition on Rembrandt in the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh; ‘Rembrandt: Britain’s discovery of the master'. It’s one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time. It explores the history of collecting and admiring Rembrandt in Britain, from within his lifetime right up to the present day (even here, the now ubiquitous contemporary tack-on works well, and leaves us Rembrandt lovers with a rather triumphant demonstration of how his work still influences great artists, like Auerbach, today).

The exhibition covers everything from Rembrandt’s paintings, to his drawings, to his prints. The assembly of paintings is first class, and they look tremendous hung in the rooms of the Royal Scottish Academy on the Mound. The choice of drawings is really fascinating, and includes works with intriguing attributional issues, such as four drawings of scenes in Britain which have long been connected to Rembrandt, even though he very likely never came here. And the section on prints is equally interesting; it not only includes some of Rembrandt’s own best prints (including the famous ‘100 guilders print’ showing Christ Preaching) but also those by other artists who either admired him, or in some cases made forgeries in imitation. 

One such example was by Benjamin Wilson, who forged a Rembrandt landscape print in order to fool the artist Thomas Hudson. Hudson had outbid Wilson for a number of Rembrandt etchings in a London auction, and had also insulted him. So, to get his revenge, and to mock Hudson’s connoisseurship, Wilson made up a print and sold it to Hudson as a Rembrandt. He triumphantly inscribed a second state of the print; ‘A proof print from this plate, designed and etched by B Wilson, was sold as a very fine Rembrandt to one of the Greatest connoisseurs for Six Shillings, the 17 April 1751’.

What I liked most about the show was its unapologetic celebration of one person's artistic genius. In an age when many academic art historians tell us that 'value judgements' are the discipline's cardinal sin, to say nothing of the belief that attribution doesn't matter, this is refreshing. Because the focus was on why collectors in Britain admired Rembrandt, the exhibition consisted of excellent examples of Rembrandt’s work, told us why they were excellent, and how people acted on that excellence. Nor was there any hint of the pretentious art history guff we sometimes see in major Old Master exhibitions. AHN cannot praise the show's curator, Dr Tico Seifert, enough.

As an evangelist for both Old Masters and Scotland, I was of course keen to tell AHNers and others about the show, in the hope of enticing some of you to Edinburgh (the show runs until 14th October). So, as we so often do these days, I wanted to take some photos in the show, both as an aide-memoir, but also to post images on here, and also on Twitter. But alas. No sooner had I taken out my phone, to take a snap of The Holy Family at Night (’The Cradle’) attributed to the workshop of Rembrandt (more on this soon), than an energetic room warden marched over, saying photography was not allowed, and waving his arms in front of the camera (see above). He then said I had to delete the photos I’d just taken. I agreed to stop taking photos, but declined to delete anything. A lady with a radio then appeared and kept a watchful eye on me. Dr Bendor Grosvenor; famous threat to the safety of Old Masters. 

Regular readers will know that I’m a champion of both photography in galleries, and the abolition of museum image reproduction fees. So I decided to tweet the photo of the guard’s hand in front of ‘The Cradle’. It seems to have caught on, and by the end of the day I was on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row programme (which you can listen to here, I'm on at 12 minutes in). The next morning, the photo appeared in The Telegraph, as part of a long story on the rights and wrongs of taking photographs in museums.

It seems hard to believe now that it was only in 2014 that the National Gallery in London allowed photography in its main galleries. But still the norm is for temporary exhibitions to ban photography. I think it’s time this changed. First, the problem is that most museum visitors now understand that photography is allowed, and we snap away avidly at things we want to share, or record. So it comes as something of a shock when we reach for our camera in a different part of the museum, but are immediately shouted at. 

Why is there a photography ban in temporary exhibitions still? In the Telegraph, the Scottish National Gallery gave the following statement:

“Photography is usually not permitted in special exhibitions which include works that do not belong to NGS. This is primarily because many lenders (private and public) understandably require us to restrict or ban photography of the works that they have entrusted to our care. 

Why ‘understandably’? If as a lender you take the decision to lend a work of art to an exhibition, you are clearly happy for it to be viewed by the public. I don’t really see why you should then want to ban people from taking a photo of it. In fact, the reason photography is banned is largely to do with the pernicious business of image reproduction fees. Museums who try to make money from selling images of their artworks need above all to restrict people’s ability to take their own photos of those artworks. And because an exhibition like the Rembrandt show in Edinburgh contains works from galleries with varying rules on photography and image reproductions, a lowest common denominator approach is enforced. If one lender wants to ban photography, then it’s banned in the whole exhibition. (The irony is that in my case, the painting I was trying to photograph belonged to the Rijksmuseum, who are entirely relaxed about photography and image use.)

The end result is unsettled visitors, room guards who spend much of their time shouting at visitors, and, most seriously of all, a dramatic limitation on museums’ ability to market their exhibitions. These days, because almost all exhibition visitors have a smartphone in their pocket, each of us has the potential to be a mini marketing machine on behalf the museum. Every time we share a photo of an exhibition, we can encourage people to visit that show. This is particularly important for engaging new audiences. A recent survey by Tate found that for young people, the top two drivers for getting them to visit an art exhibition was ‘word of mouth’ at 37% and social media at 25%. The more traditional ways of exhibition marketing, such as adverts, barely even registered with young people. 

And it’s not as if museums aren’t beginning to accept this. Just before the Rembrandt exhibition, I was contacted by the Scottish National Gallery’s new ‘Digital Content and Social Coordinator’. They wanted 'to meet with people such as yourself who engage across a wide network on social media.’ I responded that I was glad to meet and to help do my bit to spread the word. But I literally cannot do that if photography is banned. Of course, if I’d gone to the press preview of the exhibition, or even the private view (though they don’t invite me to the those), I would have been allowed to snap away to my heart’s content. But for ordinary exhibition-going folk it’s a different story. Even though the likes of AHNers would be the best kind of word of mouth marketers for the exhibition. 

I think it’s time for those organising exhibitions to be more muscular with potential lenders, especially when it comes to putting on shows in museums which already allow photography. They need to say, we’re a public gallery, putting on a public exhibition in the 21st Century, and if you don’t want to allow people to take photos, then we’ll borrow a work from elsewhere. Museums need to stop being paranoid that those taking photos of paintings are going to make a fortune by launching their own range of tea towels. I said on Radio 4 that there was a touch of the Gollum about too many museums these days; they view their artworks as ‘their precious’, even though they’re public institutions. This whole way of thinking needs to change if museums are going to be able to thrive with new audiences in the digital age.

But that’s enough about marketing. There are many other reasons we might want to take photos in an exhibition like the Rembrandt show. In the Telegraph article, Sir Simon Schama told us why he needs to take photos:

“They can be fantastic research tools if you want to see how the paint lies on the painting. I do that all the time. Then you have a photo archive to work with. You can see it in much more detail than on an online picture.”

I find it’s also useful to be able to make a record of things like frames, and picture hangs in exhibitions, none of which we find in exhibition catalogues. I also find it really useful to take photos of accompanying wall labels. In the Rembrandt exhibition, the wall labels are superb. In fact, because the exhibition catalogue in this case is (very sadly) not a traditional one with each artwork getting an entry, and is instead a series of essays, there is far more information available on the wall labels than in the catalogue. For example, the full story of the Benjamin Wilson forgery I mentioned at the top of this post is only very briefly mentioned in the catalogue. And then there is the quality of the reproductions in the catalogue, which are very poor. Finally, although some art historians might sniff at it, it is actually possible to trigger new debates and research leads through sharing images online. We don't have to do everything through peer reviewed articles that hardly anybody reads. Let's take our subject online, and make it accessible to all.

I’ll write more about some of the exhibits in the exhibition soon. But in the meantime, do go and see it if you can. 

Update - a reader writes:

I briefly wanted to react to your post of July 19th on the taking of pictures in special exhibitions. I worked on a major exhibition that was on show earlier this year, and we had a discussion on this topic as well. Previously, in our museum taking pictures was forbidden in special exhibitions, precisely due to the external loans. Because we were not satisfied with this solution, we decided to ask our 40+ lenders whether they would be comfortable with allowing photography by visitors. We would make clear on the labels whether the work in question could be photographed (which is, admittedly, also not a perfect solution). The result was that, of the ca. 115 exhibitits, 47 received a "No Picture"-Pictogram. Notably, many of these were works on paper. We were rather surprised by how many lenders, of whom many were major, internationally renowned institutions, were perfectly fine with the idea - eventhough some of their loan contracts featured a "No photography"-clause. 

All we had to do was ask.

The 'National Gallery 27'

July 16 2018

Video: National Gallery 27

The National Gallery in London is being sued by a group of lecturers, who say they were unfairly dismissed and discriminated against. It's not the most straightforward case, but I think the crux of it is this: the lecturers (there are 27 of them) say they were directly employed by the National Gallery. But when earlier this year the National Gallery sought to re-organise the education department, the lecturers were treated as freelance employees, and summarily and unfairly dismissed. So the legal case is about first addressing their unfair dismissal, and also about forcing the National Gallery to recognise that they had always been direct employees, and therefore entitled to all the usual in-work benefits that employees get (such as holiday time, employee rights, and so on).

The case has been covered today in The Guardian, and the Financial Times. But I think a good summary of the case is on the lecturers' crowdfunding page (they need to raise £65,000 to fund their campaign):

We are asking to be recognised as employees (and at a minimum  ‘workers’), and not self-employed. We are bringing a case of unfair dismissal and claim that the National Gallery has discriminated against members of our group, in respect to longevity of service, sex and age. We have rights to consultation and retrospective holiday pay.

Despite the day-to-day reality of our integrated working relationship, the National Gallery insists we were self employed. We have been denied the protection and rights we were due as employees or workers.  

We were paid through the National Gallery payroll, taxed at source and wore staff passes. We were required to attend staff training and team meetings and received formal reviews of our work. But we had no job security or employment rights, including holiday pay and sick pay.

The Gallery has shown no interest in conciliation, despite our attempts to raise concerns personally with the Director and senior staff. It is with disappointment and sadness that their behaviour has led us to this point of bringing a legal claim.

The Gallery has replaced our large group of long-serving educators with a small number of in-house educator roles on greatly reduced salary and terms, to which we do not consent.

In response, the National Gallery has said:

"The Gallery has been issued with a number of different claims from a number of freelance workers who have been providing a range of different services for the Gallery (and other museums and galleries across London) on an ad hoc basis for a number of years.

It is our understanding that the claims have arisen out of the Gallery's wish to change from offering ad hoc work to offering more secure employment, with additional pension and worker benefits. This change reflects the Gallery's strategy to develop our programmes to increasingly reach new audiences and make the most of digital technology to widen our engagement.

The entire group were consulted for their views together and individually over the change for a period of three months between October 2017 and January 2018. These jobs were offered to all of our existing freelance service providers last year. We still have vacancies which are available, although unfortunately not all of the group have expressed an interest in these.

At the present time, it is our understanding that the tribunal is actually scheduled for the end of the year. The session on Monday 16 July is an administrative session to discuss process.

The Gallery is not yet in receipt of the details of each complaint, but believes that we have acted both lawfully and fairly in changing our service provision to one of secure employment."

Reading the National Gallery's statement, it might seem that their course was not unreasonable. But you need here to consider what the National Gallery is not saying. What they're not telling you in the above statement is that the pay on offer to the lecturers in the new structure was considerably less than they were getting before.

In terms of the legal case, it seems to me that the lecturers have a strong case. There was a similar recent case, involving Pimlico Plumbers in London. Pimlico Plumbers insisted that all its plumbers work as self-employed plumbers, despite them wearing company uniform and driving company vans. This allowed the company to not treat its plumbers as normal employees, which is cheaper for the company, and gives the plumbers less rights. The plumbers, however, won their case. And the lecturers' case is very similar.

As is usually the case with these things, this dispute is about money. The National Gallery wants to run a more efficient ship. And so it should. But this is a public institution, which has a need also for good lecturers. And the National Gallery, as regular readers will know, is awash with cash, and better off than it has ever been. Just last week it acquired a self-portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi almost entirely from its own funds, and having paid £1.6m more than the picture recently fetched at auction. But it seems to consistenly make unforced errors in the way it handles its organisational functions. The handling of the warders case in 2014 was a case in point, though in that case I had more sympathy with the National Gallery's overall goals than many others.

But in the case of the lecturers, however, it's hard to see what the National Gallery gains here, either by its heavy-handedly going on with the department restructure, or by contesting the lecturers' case. The National Gallery had some of the best lecturers there were, a dedicated, hard-working team who I always found impressive. They've now junked all that, and now stand to win only a slew of negative headlines, and a large legal bill. It's at moments like this that you want a board of trustees to shake the management by the lapels, and say, 'what the hell are you doing?'. But there'll be no chance of that; as any reading of trustee meeting minutes shows, they're content to nod through what the staff suggest. That's what happens if you reserve trustee-ships for the great and the good.

Update - here's something worth considering; institutions like the National Gallery rightly make every effort to broaden the diversity of both their staff and their audience. But one of the lecturers suing the National Gallery is Leslie Primo. Leslie was the first black employee at the National Gallery, and it's only black lecturer. He was also the last. 

Rembrandt & Britain

July 15 2018

Video: National Gallery of Scotland

If you haven't already booked your tickets to Edinburgh for the incomparable Festival and Fringe, then yet another reason to visit the world's finest city is a new exhibition at the National Gallery of Scotland, 'Rembrandt - Britain's Discovery of the Master'. It's open now until 14th October, and looks to be a fascinating exhibition. Unusually, this isn't a travelling show, so you'll need to come to Scotland to see it. I'm hoping to go this week. More details here

'Dutch design in the age of Rembrandt'

July 15 2018

Video: Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a new exhibition on Dutch design in the age of Rembrandt. As ever, the museum goes for an innovative and eye-catching way of marketing the exhibition, above. Bravo. More on the exhibition here

Go to bed with an Old Master

July 13 2018

Image of Go to bed with an Old Master

Picture: Savoir Beds

The National Gallery has launched a partnership with Savoir Beds, to sell a range of bedheads illustrated with paintings from the Gallery's collection. I can't see any prices on the Savoir site, but they're doubtless not cheap. There is, however, some splendid guff:

Once commissioned, the design is specially printed in the UK, by Andrew Martin, using the latest technology on a selection of three fabrics – lustrous velvet, textured linen viscose and versatile cotton. Finished with a bespoke plaque detailing the portrait and artist, every commission will be personally approved by The National Gallery to guarantee the design preserves the essence and integrity of one of the greatest art institutes in the world. The fine art of sleeping beautifully.

Which is presumably an excellent and worthy use of National Gallery staff time.

But of course this is a Good Thing, and I hope the National Gallery raise lots of money from it. I also hope the National Gallery can see that this is the sort of thing that constitutes a 'commercial' use of their images, not an academic book published by a university press.

How to be a good curator (part 52)

July 12 2018

Video: British Museum

Here's our favourite British Museum curator, Dr Irving Finkel, talking about ghosts in Mesopotamia. The video has had over 15,000 views in less than a month on the British Museum's YouTube channel. What's remarkable about it is that it's just Dr Finkel sitting in a chair talking about objects, which we occassionally see images of. Nothing fancier than that.

All you need to make a good video like this, through which you can engage new audiences on an otherwise obscure topic (Dr Finkel is the BM's 'curator of cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia', which on one level is about as niche as it gets), is to know your stuff and be good at telling stories.

Unfortunately, knowing your stuff is actually the easy part. Telling good stories is harder than we think. We need more Dr Finkels.

Museum image fees (ctd.)

July 9 2018

Image of Museum image fees (ctd.)

Picture: Birmingham Museums Trust

Good news from the campaign to abolish (or significantly reduce) image reproduction fees. First, from Birmingham Museums Trust. This institution manages nine sites in Birmingham, with over 800,000 objects. And soon images of those works which are already out of copyright will be free to use, in any way you wish. This is the first major collection in the UK to go 'open', and follows the lead of York Museums Trust. 

There is a catch, but I think it's a clever one. Free images will be limited to 3MB at 300 dpi. So the highest resolution images (the ones that you need to making tea towels, say) will still be chargeable. I think this strikes a good balance between wider access and commercial necessities (I've written more about it in this month's Art Newspaper). 3MB at a good resolution is enough for most publishing needs. Here is Birmingham's full statement:

Birmingham Museums Trust has taken the decision to make collection images up to 3MB (no more than 300dpi) freely available, in a step to make the collection more accessible.

Released under the CC0 licence, images of copyright-expired objects in the collection and images of objects not subject to third-party copyright, can now be accessed for free. This approach has been taken to create a simple system which is easy to understand and encourage images to be used widely.

Open access to images will make the collection accessible to as many people as possible. It is hoped the decision will allow academics and researchers more freedom to explore the collection in greater detail, as the images will be available at a suitable size for academic publication. Birmingham Museums will ask publishers to give attribution voluntarily and send a copy of their publication to the museum where possible.

The Trust will continue to charge for high resolution images, helping to protect some of the income from commercial use of images.

To improve access further, Birmingham Museums will introduce a new Digital Asset Management System in late 2019. This means people will be able to download images directly from the Trust’s website, removing the need for an administrative intermediate. More details about this system will be announced later in the year.

The decision comes at a time when Birmingham Museums is planning for a major redevelopment of Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery. Opening access to the images will mean the collection is still accessible in some form online, helping to keep the museum in the public eye at a time when many objects will be off display."

My campaigning colleagues (including Dr Richard Stephens, who has been in very useful discussions with Birmingham on this issue for some time) hope that more institutions will soon be able to follow the example set by Birmingham. 

The next piece of good news is from the Wallace Collection. This has committed to allow free 'academic' use of its images. The announcement comes in its launch of a new website, which is excellent. The new policy has yet to be fully 'rolled out', and currently the Wallace's own definition of 'academic' is extremely limited (essentially, everything you or I would call 'academic' is deemed by them - like most UK museums - to actually be 'commercial, see here.) But I'm glad to be able to report that this will change soon, and be much more generous. 

It's worth noting, incidentally, that the Wallace currently makes no meaningful revenue from image fees. Figures obtained by our campaign show that over the last five years they have never made more than £10,000 profit on image fees. And the profit figure only accounts for 'direct costs', such as staff, and not indirect costs such as general overheads, office space, equipment and other support costs. For the last two years, the Wallace Collection's stated profits from image fees were £6,000 and £9,000, on sales of £28,000 and £32,000. Direct costs to service these sales were £22,000 and £23,000. Add in indirect costs, and you're just treading water. As I've been saying for a long time, image fees are not a sensible way to raise revenue.

Rubens' crypt opened

July 9 2018

Image of Rubens' crypt opened

Picture: Codart

I'm not entirely sure why, but Rubens' crypt has been opened. It was last opened in the 1970s. Samples were taken, to see if we can find out exactly what killed him. I've never been a fan of disturbing graves.

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