Thursday, 13 June 2013

Museum and Man of the Year

the William Morris Gallery is Museum of the Year   -   some beautiful and useful (£100,000) icing on the triumph of the successful re-opening.    More here, including link to article by Sarah Crompton on the reasons, and some pertinent comments:

This is what Tristram Hunt had to say about the WMG renewal:
‘The result is a triumph. The Gallery does so much: it positions Morris within the topography of north-east London as it edges into Epping Forest and Essex; it explains the roots of his gothicism and relationship with Ruskinian design; it describes the birth of his commercial practice and commodification of style; it deftly charts the nature of his socialism and how his art interacted with his politics; and it explores his remarkable cultural legacy. The Gallery does all this with scholarship and insight in an open and accessible style. There is no dumbing down here, but a great programme of outreach. No compromise on aesthetic and curatorial excellence, but an equal commitment to ensuring that as many people as possible come to understand the importance and wonder of William Morris. As a result, one of the poorest boroughs in the country now has one of the greatest museums in the country. From the dead-end thinking of 2007 with its terrible assumptions that socio-economically challenged communities and multicultural neighbourhoods cannot appreciate fine art, we now have museum of the year.’ *

and the success has been almost too good -  before the award the Gallery had some 100 000 visitors in the eight months since re-opening.  Since then, more and more have come, until I fear real stress on the fabric and the displays.  Yet this is cause for fantastic celebration too.
It's a good moment for Morris all round, with his dramatic image as a sea-striding colossus upending the kind of 'yacht' that the stinking rich use to mock the rest of us by e.g. dwarfing the stones of Venice, making headlines in Jeremy Deller's installation at the Biennale.  

Curious, too, that for their political critique artists like Deller and David Mabb turn to Morris,  who died over a century ago and whose socialism is now generally held to be wholly outmoded and contemptible.  Not to Karl Marx, nor any of the more fashionable Marxist theorists of the twentieth century, nor any Green or alternative analyst but - of course - a pioneer who combined a career in the arts of design and literature with pioneering socialist  campaigning.   in fact, in the full flight of his socialist years, Morris poured scorn on all art produced under plutocratic capitalism. Agitprop art had not then been invented and Morris may be credited with inspiring later generations with vigorous visual polemic.
* slightly barbed final comment: many of us in 2007 and earlier had wholly contrary assumptions

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