Thursday, 7 July 2016
V&A #MUSEUMOFTHEYEAR Right Place, Wrong Time?
If I was a betting man I would have put a pony on the V&A winning Art Fund Museum of the Year 2016, a contest with only one likely victor, given that the stated criteria for the museum's success - a globally significant exhibition programme and major investment in the permanent display galleries - were ones in which the Arnolfini, York Art Gallery and the rest could not compete. According to a write-up in The Guardian, judges said that 'the sheer number of visitors to the V&A was impressive'. Again, no contest.
I don't wish to criticise either the V&A or the judges. I have great respect for the Art Fund as well, but something is not quite right here. It's all, well, a bit too London. It was fine when the British Museum won the award five years ago, but things were different then.
Over the intervening period regional museums have seen funding cut and cut again. In towns and cities around the country are museums staffed by absurdly small numbers of passionate individuals, who work against the odds to maintain collections and put on exhibitions. I've met numerous curators of small museums and they are universally helpful, positive and full of ideas for exhibitions and improvements. A thriving museum can offer so much, but no museum can thrive on idealism alone.
Given the voting pattern in the recent referendum, and the strong suggestion of an economic, cultural and political divide between the capital and the regions, I wonder whether any of the Art Fund judges suggested awarding the prize to an institution outside London - as a cultural olive branch, if nothing else. But then, how on earth would you justify not giving it to the resurgent V&A?
OK, I'll stop grumbling and accept that the best team won (been doing a lot of that lately). Besides, there is much to be learnt from the V&A's victory. Look at those numbers, first of all. Almost half a million people went to see the Alexander McQueen exhibition, which suggests that we are hungry for culture. That rogue one-man art corporation Banksy has shown more than once that people will travel a long way if you offer them something new or exciting enough - to Weston-super-Mare, even. It's up to curators everywhere to think creatively, break down boundaries between art, fashion and pop culture - and really put on a show.
PS If you like a flutter, I'd put my money on Tate Modern for next year's prize.