It’s not quite what was imagined when someone coined the term “Cultural Imperialism,” but the importance of museums and galleries to a nation’s tourist and culture industries can cause art institutions to expand their ambitions. Such is the case with Britain’s National Gallery and Tate complex of museums. In 1996, a cease-fire was drawn up. Late last week, according to the Telegraph, another truce was signed but still no treaty:
It was announced that a new agreement lasting until 2019 has been reached, reportedly to the satisfaction of both parties. “Following recent discussions, the National Gallery and Tate have agreed that the principles governing the historical boundaries of their two collections, which were put in place in 1996, should continue to apply for another 10 years from 2009,” a statement read.
The key point, though, is that the new agreement will have a greater degree of flexibility than the old one: the NG accepts that Tate will continue to acquire 19th-century paintings by artists associated with the 20th century (such as Bonnard and Matisse), and vice versa. “It’s a harmonious working out of how we’re going to do things from now on,” says Thomas Almeroth-Williams of the National Gallery.
The Guardian adds a little flesh to the story by explaining how the divide can cramp the National Gallery’s style:
But the National Gallery has been challenging this strict boundary in recent years. Last March, its then new director, Nicholas Penny, noted publicly that “the National Gallery was built to house contemporary art”. In September, he was quoted as saying: “The idea is not to have an agreement. We are not happy with 1900 as a final, absolute point of the end of the National Gallery.”
Even before Penny was appointed, the National Gallery is understood to have been unhappy with 1900 as the endpoint of its collections.
In practice it has been developing its involvement with modern and contemporary art, with a high-profile artist-in-residence scheme. In November, it will temporarily install Hoerengracht (1984-88), by Ed and Nancy Kienholz, a walk-in installation that recreates the “whores’ canal” of Amsterdam’s red light district. It is intended to cast light on the gallery’s 17th-century Dutch paintings, many of which show scenes from the demimonde.
The cut-off has practical implications, with the galleries exchanging works that sit on the “wrong” side of the line on long-term loan. Fifty works belonging to the Tate are in the National Gallery, while only three works belonging to the National Gallery are in the Tate (a Matisse, a Monet and a Picasso, the last now back in the National Gallery for the Picasso exhibition).
A minute from a 2005 Tate trustee meeting records Nicholas Serota, the director of Tate, as noting “the agreement [is] not in Tate’s favour in the short term because it [means] that 50 paintings were loaned to the National Gallery”.
The original agreement was signed as the decision to create Tate Modern was made. A statement dating from 1996 stated: “The decision to create [Tate Modern] has provided a fresh opportunity to reassess the distribution of works between the … galleries. Major artists whose work straddles the turn of the century will continue to be shown to their best advantage across the whole range of their career where possible by the respective galleries.”
A Tate trustees’ report of November 2005 also explained that the agreement was made, “because the national collection of European painting covering the period 1875 to 1910 was divided between the two institutions in a way that left neither with a very satisfactory representation”.
National Gallery and Tate End Row Over 1900 (Telegraph)