Conference Roundtable- What’s Next?: Art Markets, Museums & Collecting

PhD student and conference organiser Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth summarises our recent Conference Roundtable

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The roundtable participants included: Jeremy Howard (Head of Academic Projects, P & D Colnaghi); Dr Rachel Conroy (Curator, Temple Newsam House, Leeds); and Ronnie Duncan (Lifelong Art Collector).

After a successful two days of stimulating conversation and much food for thought at our conference Private Collecting and Public Display: Art Markets & Museums we were delighted to end with a lively roundtable session. Chaired by Centre Director Dr Mark Westgarth, the roundtable centred on three representatives from the art market, the museum, and the field of private collecting.

The topic of the roundtable was ‘What’s Next?: Art Markets, Museums & Collecting’ and Dr Westgarth led the session by questioning each participant about the main issues facing their sector in the future. Dr Conroy began by stating that for museums the biggest challenges were financial restraints and the declining number of curatorial specialists. She urged both regional and national museums to have more ambition in securing new pieces for their collections and maintained that curators have a responsibility to collect from the art market, as well as from private collectors. Jeremy Howard responded by seconding the need for continuing connoisseurship in research and curatorial settings. He also championed the need for new collectors who must be encouraged to look towards pre-1900 art, citing that after the recent news of the closure of Christie’s South Kensington, the art market is moving increasingly towards a sole focus on contemporary art. Dr Westgarth responded by asking why exhibitions and the art world in general were moving towards such a contemporary shift. This led Jeremy to posit that taste and also the art market are cyclical, and whilst today our focus is on modern and contemporary art, perhaps this may change in the coming years. Therefore, as Jeremy emphasized, it is the dealer, as a representative of the art market, who has a responsibility to work together with museums and emerging collectors to create new admiration for the currently struggling art markets, particularly Old Master paintings and decorative art.

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Finally, Dr Westgarth turned his attention towards British art collector Ronnie Duncan who for over sixty years has been collecting modern British sculpture in Yorkshire and has exhibited his collection to the public previously at The Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery in the University of Leeds. Ronnie Duncan responded to the question regarding the future role and challenges faced by collectors, by stating that as a collector he has concern for the future destination of his collection and hopes to ensure that it goes into good hands, citing his own future intention to donate several pieces to museums. Most importantly Ronnie wants his art to be put on display carefully, so that objects that have been carefully collected over the years and which tell a story together, can ‘shine off and juxtapose one another’ in a public museum setting.

The roundtable continued with contributions from the floor and discussions occurred regarding the need for transparency in the art market in terms of provenance and retribution research, the role of digital platforms and the digitization of private collections as further blurring boundaries, and finally, ended with a fruitful discussion regarding the semantics of the art market and museum, particularly what constitutes a ‘public’ object or ‘private’ sphere.

Drawing the conference to a close, Dr Mark Westgarth summarised the key themes which arose over the two days, and looked forward to continuing conversations and collaborations between the scholarly fields of art markets, museums, and the histories of collecting.

-Posted by Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth

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