Many readers of this blog may know that the Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market chose ‘Private Collecting & Public Display: Art Markets and Museums’ as the theme of its recent conference at the University of Leeds. The Centre, under the direction of Mark Westgarth, has quickly established its reputation for serious and sustained research in all aspects of the art and antiques market and as such the stately Nathan Bodington Chamber, with its restrained Art Deco wood paneling and impressive portraiture of past Vice-Chancellors, was a suitable venue for the conference proceedings to unfold. The conference was made possible by funding from the White Rose College and CSAAM itself and was organised by a small group of highly motivated PhD students from Leeds and Sheffield who, over the two days of the conference, proved to be a highly efficient, well-organised and convivial team.
My own interest in attending as a delegate lay in finding out more about the social dynamics existing between the various stakeholders in the art and antiques market and to consider whether patterns could be seen to emerge in their social networks over time. These questions coincide with my own ongoing research interests and I am pleased to report that over 75% of the speakers raised, considered or addressed these themes to some extent and provided me with much food for thought as a result.
The conference itself was an international affair, attracting around sixty speakers and delegates from academic and cultural institutions across the UK, Europe and North and South America as well as private collectors, dealers and independent scholars and writing personally as a delegate without any responsibility other than to be open to new ideas and perspectives that the conference would raise, it was clear from the outset that the conference was ambitious in its scope with the scheduling of twenty-one papers across seven themed panels; along with a keynote address from Susanna Avery-Quash of the National Gallery. That the conference Call For Papers must have attracted healthy response is not surprising as the history of the competing and cooperating relationships between Collectors and Institutions captures the imagination of anyone who considers it for any length and its narratives unlock a wealth of insight into the methods and meaning of the art and antiques market as they have changed over time. It was clear then, that the many facets of the conferences central theme would be thoroughly explored and this proved to be the case as it was to reach its conclusion.
After the opening address by Mark Westgarth, highlights on the first day included the opening paper by Marie Tavinor on the Politics of Donation and the Tate bequest, which emphasised for me, the importance of shifting notions of value in art markets – aside from her mention of the Panopticon prison that stood on the site of the National Gallery and which has provided me with another area for research! Margaret Iaconco and Helen Glaister completed the first panel and both explored how the agency of collectors, institutions and the public played a part in shaping how private collections became public exhibits. Other speakers considered notions of status, as Nicole Cochrane spoke about the collecting of Charles Townley in the 18th Century, and authenticity, as Alison Clarke spoke about the display of 18th Century Fragonard’s at Agnew’s at the end of the 19th Century and both spoke about connoisseurship but ultimately, for me, about investment; both personal and financial. The theme of moving from ‘private to public’ continued throughout the morning and the idea of continuity of tradition and the role of agency in that narrative was further, and thoroughly, explored. The keynote address concluded the proceeding of the first day when Susan Avery-Quash gave an inspiring ‘call to arms’ address which served as a gauge of the cultural health of the art and museums sector in the present, and called for strategies going forward for the future.
Highlights on the second day included papers by Rasmus Kjaerboe, Gareth Fletcher, Helen Ritchie and Tom Boggis which explored in divergent ways the common themes addressing notions of individual and shared perceptions of the cultural and material value of art and the expectations that collectors and institutions have with regard to the life and legacy of that which is displayed. The individual panels were followed by a concluding Round Table discussion between Mark as moderator and Jeremy Howard (dealer and academic) Ronnie Duncan (Art Collector) and Rachel Conroy (Curator) which discussed and contextualised the themes raised across the two days and this successfully brought the diverse strands of the conference together into a coherent whole and ‘statement of intent’ for both CSAAM and the legacy of the conference going forward. All in all, I found this this to be a very rewarding couple of days spent in Leeds and its organisers ensured that all those in attendance were regularly revived with excellent refreshments and catering; the highlight being the generous conference dinner on the first night and opportunity for further discussion. It only remains to be said that I hope that CSAAM will host conferences of a similar caliber in the not so distant future and that I could thoroughly recommend them to future delegates and potential speakers. Thanks once again to all those concerned and for providing an opportunity for such a useful exchange of ideas!