Giving China’s 21st century performers a place in London’s calendar

Giving China’s 21st century performers a place in London’s calendar

Was Debussy Chinese? No, of course not, but he might have been, thinks An-Ting Chang.

UK’s heritage in danger from cuts, union warns

UK’s heritage in danger from cuts, union warns

Funding cuts are hitting the caret of the UK’s heritage and museums, according to a survey of its members by the public service union Prospect.

Turner’s birthday garden party

Turner’s birthday garden party

As J M W Turner’s 243rdbirthday is celebrated today, the restoration of the garden at the house he designed and built at Twickenham for his father and himself is completed.

TaitMail    Lessons from St John’s Smith Square: that six legs are better than three

TaitMail Lessons from St John’s Smith Square: that six legs are better than three

The shell burst last weekend was the loudest culture bang to go off since ENO lost a large hunk of its subsidy three years ago and threatened to go dark if its new business plan didn’t work. St John’s Smith Square isn’t the Coliseum, but it not being there would leave a large hole in a lot of people’s musical lives.  

Where are our monuments? History and the Windrush fiasco

Where are our monuments? History and the Windrush fiasco

The Black Cultural Archives, the nation’s only repository dedicated to the heritage of African and Caribbean heritage people, opened its centre in Windrush Square, Brixton, in 2014, but why the Windrush documents if no longer thought useful, were they not passed over to the archive?Here its director, Paul Reid, looks at the history behind the unfolding fiasco regarding for the Windrush generation - and sees a shameful lack of appreciation of the Black citizens who have helped create today’s Britain, creating a hostile environment for legal migrants

Lancashire to reopen three museums

Lancashire to reopen three museums

Weekend opening plans revealed after closures

Proms showcase for disabled ensemble

Proms showcase for disabled ensemble

BSO Resound, the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s disabled-led ensemble, is to make its Proms debut this summer, and its first major UK performance.

Roundhouse recruits kids’ champion

Roundhouse recruits kids’ champion

Sir Ken Robinson, the pioneer of creativity in education, is to join the Roundhouse arts centre as associate creative curator to boost its work with young people, it was announced today.

Arts education: ‘It’s not enough minister’ say arts chiefs

Arts education: ‘It’s not enough minister’ say arts chiefs

Arts leaders, including the artistic director of English National Ballet and the CEO of the British Fashion Council, have today demanded full creative education for all schoolchildren.

Crossing the Narrow Water

Crossing the Narrow Water

A literary festival aims to bridge the gap between Northern Ireland and Scotland.

Youth moving in on Tate

Youth moving in on Tate

Tate has launched with a two-pronged initiative to bring more young visitors, offering £5 exhibition admission and a new youth-dedicated trustee.

St John’s Smith Square may close in funding crisis

St John’s Smith Square may close in funding crisis

One of Europe’s great concert venues will close next year if a funding appeal launched today https://www.sjss.org.uk/savesjss does not succeed.

THE WORD         Art should lead the attack on the gender wall

THE WORD Art should lead the attack on the gender wall

The British Punjabi artist Chila Kumari Burman (main image), who explores Asian femininity in paintings and installations, photography and printmaking, and film, sees art as central to breaking the gender gap and widening the cultural gaze

Arts letting down minorities in workforce

Those working in the creative industries are still predominantly from the middle classes, excluding those from BAME and working class backgrounds.

THE WORD    Own Art - who owns it?

THE WORD Own Art - who owns it?

Gallerist Ann Petherick calls time on her participation in the Own Art scheme, aimed at encouraging artlovers to buy art in easy payments

Gillian Ayres dies at 88

Gillian Ayres dies at 88

One of the leading British abstract colourist artists of the last 50 years, Gillian Ayes, has died aged 88.

ACNI announces round of cuts in funding

ACNI announces round of cuts in funding

But boost for Ulster Orchestra and Belfast MAC

 ‘New’ Grimms tale created by cloning

‘New’ Grimms tale created by cloning

Once upon a time, not so long ago, a new Grimms fairy tale was published - 150 years after the brothers died, thanks to artificial intelligence.

PASSING BY... Collecting memories

Antony Thorncroft mourns the passing of an old South Ken friend

It was in the mid 1970s that I started to cover for the FT the cultural industries (words which in those days would never have appeared in the same sentence), and its pushy cousin, the art and antiques market. If I had been asked 40 years ago to predict the future for these two activities I would have made a complete fool of myself.

The arts in the UK were unknowingly about to enter a period of great expansion, with new and refurbished opera houses and concert halls, art galleries and museums. Alongside these grandiose buildings there emerged enterprising young drama, dance and classical music companies. Fuelled by lottery money and aided by innovations in art, pop music, lm, video and new technology, the arts are enjoying a golden age, one that has gone largely unappreciated by its growing band of practitioners.

The experience of the art market has been quite different. Despite its apparently unchanging appearance it has been transformed almost beyond recognition. This is especially true of the two houses which dominated (and still dominate) the business, Sotheby’s and Christie’s. Located a few hundred yards from each in London’s West End, and both tracing their origins back to the 18th century, they were in the 1970s proudly British, but just starting to dis- cover new opportunities for growth in the US and Europe. Each week they would hold dozens of auctions, selling anything from valuable Old Masters to silver teapots, and employing experts in arms and armour, musical instruments, English porcelain, paper- weights, anything that appealed to a coterie of collectors, however small.

Now both houses are foreign owned – Sotheby’s by Americans, Christie’s by the French - and both see their futures overseas, in the Far East and the Middle East, in Russia and South America, wherever those billionaires who have been persuaded that rare art is a safe investment choose to live. In London the only auctions regularly scheduled are for modern and contemporary art, Impressionism, Old Masters, and eye catching objets d’art which might tempt the mega rich. Bids in the millions, which once brought shocked applause in the salerooms, are commonplace. The two main auction houses are now wholesale emporia for the collecting fads of the very wealthy.

These thoughts were prompted by the news that Christie’s is closing its South Kensington auction room, which it opened in 1975 when the UK was still the heart of the business. It aimed to cater for collectors of early needlework, lead soldiers, mantel clocks, Staffordshire figures, county maps and a myriad more artefacts, the once loved detritus of the past which these days fill the schedules of day- time television. It also provided furnishings for affluent young locals who still then appreciated 18th century furniture and Victorian pictures, and, of course, sourced the most loyal clients of the auction houses, the dealers.

It was a pleasure to visit, especially if there was an invitation to a board- room lunch. The staff were less stuffy than at the King Street HQ, and entering into the bustling Old Brompton Street premises – with a packed sale- room for an art nouveau auction over there, a small gathering of dealers in rugs and carpets along the way, and with viewings for vintage posters and tinplate trains in the basement - was a happy immersion into the eccentric passions of British collectors, along with the Italian dealers who always seemed to dominate the furniture sales.

Sotheby’s, too, courted the home market, with salerooms in Chester and Billingshurst. It even opened premises in Belgravia which just sold Victorian art, all the rage during the Pre Raphaelite revival, and later one in Olympia. Now they are all gone and the cash registers tell why. Christie’s sales through South Kensington last year totalled £62m, less than half that it might hope to bring in from an hour’s energetic gavel wielding selling modern art in King Street. In recent years departments have been closed down, even those in areas such as vintage posters where CSK largely created

the market. By 2012 there were 120 sales; last year there were just 55. It had become much more pro table convincing a Chinese tycoon of the appreciation value of a Warhol than selling £100 lots to collectors of buckles and buttons.

So Sotheby’s and Christie’s have become basically investment houses, loaning money with art as the security; organising private sales; and offering guaranteed sums in return for auctioning off your Bacon or Pollock. Traditional collectors are left to try their luck on eBay and the internet; at antiques fairs; and in the provincial salerooms which still flourish. In London Bon- hams has made a good fist in grabbing some of the middle market.

But I do miss the old days. It was fun being guided through Sotheby’s and Christie’s to the pokey room where the militaria expert purred over a saddle cloth and trousers worn by an officer in the Connaught Rangers during the Peninsula War; to be allowed to touch a 15th century Book of Hours (gloves, apparently, need not be worn) in the manuscripts department; to handle the first Dinky toy, a 1933 tank; in fact in an hour or so receiving a crash course in everything from Chinese rice paper paintings to teddy bears.

Of course there will always be col- lectors, and it is understandable that today they are more passionate about Star Wars memorabilia and early Habitat sofas than Victorian sheet music and candle holders – and the internet offers the most wonderful global market place. But I will retain my nostalgia for the days when the past in all its strange- ness, variety and beauty was made tangible and avail- able in the salerooms, though perhaps some of the nostalgia is for my youth.

 

 

Print Email