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Tuesday, 30 April 2013

The Ministry Explains it All: Museum of the Year 2013

By now you must have heard of the Art Fund’s Museum of the Year Award either through those nominated proudly proclaiming it to peers, or maybe you have seen a banner outside an institution or even found out about it through the news feed of choice – twitter. Whatever your source I bet you’re wondering what all the fuss is about? Yes, this is an honourable achievement, but did you know out of the ten finalists there are two winners? The ‘Museum of the Year’ winning £100,000 and a second Museum or Gallery benefiting from £10,000 for the Clore Learning Award.

Pretty big prize right? Well to make it even more exciting did you know that three London Museums have made it to the finalist stage? The Horniman Museum and Gardens, The William Morris Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery are competing in the top ten to win Museum of the Year 2013.

The Art Fund prize began in 2001 to create an annual prize for museums and galleries; it has since been awarded to the biggest museum – The British Museum in 2011 for the ‘History of the World in 100 Objects’ and lesser known galleries such as The Lightbox Museum and Gallery in Woking. The judges have been visiting the ten finalist ( institutions since the 2nd April and although we don’t know exactly what make a ‘Museum of the Year’ the Art Fund specifies that ‘the Prize highlights the innovative and creative ways that museums bring objects and collections to life, looking specifically at activity undertaken in 2012.’

Well in that case I’m sure they enjoyed their visits to London’s offerings! Here at The Ministry we know that The Horniman, William Morris Gallery and Dulwich Picture Gallery are fantastic institutions, but for one weekend The Ministry examined further:

The Horniman Museum and Gardens.

The Horniman Museum and Gardens is situated on London Road in Forest Hill, a collection of Anthropology, Natural history and Musical Instruments, Frederick John Horniman aimed to bring the world into his home. As the son of a successful tea Merchant (Horniman Tea was the most largely produced loose leaf tea in 1891) his disposable cash and status as a Victorian gentleman enabled him to become one of the most prolific collectors of his time. Donating his collection and the site to the London Council in 1901 it has become an iconic part of South East London.

The Man himself, Frederick John Horniman
stood upon a crate of tea
It’s collection of Anthropology, Natural History and Musical Instruments continue to inspire and leave its visitors in awe. My favourite room is the Centenary Gallery where objects collected by Horniman and his friend Alfred Court Haddon (credited as becoming the first British anthropologist after his trip to the Torres Strait Islands to create a scientific study of people) sit next to contemporary Anthropologists objects.

In 2012 the Museum spoke to London, by bringing objects out of the stores and relating them to the city’s vibrant fashion a clear dialogue of Londoners self-expression and London’s cultural diversity was explained in ‘The Body Adorned’ Exhibition, it received unprecedented attention and was even opened by the one and only Dame Vivienne Westwood.

The most iconic objects on display at the Museum provide interest for children and big kids; the overstuffed Walrus and the merman. They are perfect examples of Victorian curiosity and as The Ministry of Curiosity like to think of themselves as Victorian Gentleman (without the sexism and with less opium) we hold a special place in our hearts for this Museum, and highly recommend it for an unusual day out.

Dulwich Picture Gallery.

Just down the hill from the Horniman and through a beautiful park sits the Dulwich Picture Gallery. In picturesque Dulwich Village it’s impossible to imagine that you are in London let alone in the presences of an amazing collection of ‘Old Master’s’ Paintings.
Bet it takes a while to dust all of those fancy frames. 
The Gallery has a vibrant history with its collection acquired by numerous influential individuals in the arts, housing collections bequeathed by Edward Alleyne (1566 – 1626) and William Carthwright in 1686. The early 19th Century saw a dramatic improvement in the collection when Sir Francis Bourgeois and Noel Desenfans left works to the Gallery. Originally collected for Poland’s National Collection the numerous Old Master paintings had taken them so long to collect that Poland had been partitioned when they finished in 1795. On the death of the remaining partner Dessefan’s the collection was left to the Gallery with a stipulation for the construction of a new Gallery designed by Sir John Soane. Opened to the public in 1817 Dulwich Picture Gallery is now the oldest public Art Gallery in England.

Pride and prettiness in one vase.
On my first visit to the Gallery, I was actually a bit disappointed having become used to the massive spaces of Central London galleries the building seemed tiny. But their collection of ‘Old Masters’ (Old Masters refers to the painters of skill before 1800) left me in awe. Works from the Dutch Golden Age and Italian Renaissance dominate the walls and I was amazed to find one of my favourite 17th Century paintings there, (I actually squealed with excitement).
The ‘Old Master’ Jan Van Huysun’s ‘Vase with Flowers’ is a typical expression of the nationalistic approach from the Dutch School, the flower trade of Holland and the newly formed Dutch republic were widely celebrated with the use of flowers and maps in paintings. I love it not only for its political celebration but because of its range of blues and striking reds. Thanks to the Dulwich Picture Gallery a postcard of this now adorns my wall.

In 2012 the Gallery celebrated its bicentenary (wow!) and with its third century it ‘refocused a sense of its founders desires to display art for the inspection of the public’ according to the Art Fund. Here at The Ministry we have indeed noticed that it has been striving to reach out to new audiences, with an amazing lecture programme and regular film nights the Gallery is captivating a fresh audience.

William Morris Gallery.

As a South Londoner (by location only) the Horniman and Dulwich Picture Gallery were only a bus ride away, but to visit the William Morris Gallery I had to battle the length and breadth of the Victoria Line. When I arrived in Walthamstow Central the hour and a half spent travelling felt minimal. William Morris was a Victorian man of many talents and I loved how the gallery explored each aspect of his life.

 Situated in Morris’ teenage home the gallery tells a chronological story of his political beliefs, influential friendships and subsequent associations with the Pre Raphaelites (a Victorian brotherhood of revolutionary artists) to aspects of his life that inspired his infamous work as a textile designer. He believed that beauty is a basic human need and his production of textiles was in defiance of the mass production of the industrial revolution with a determination to raise the standards of manufactured goods.

Maybe modern protestors should make a
lovely banner like this rather than
'This wouldn't happen at Hogwarts'
My favourite piece in the gallery is William Morris’ socialist banner, I felt that this summarised him so well as a person, the banner designed by him of course, his close friend and a founding member of the Pre Raphaelite brotherhood Edward Burne Jones designing the image and the purpose of the banner to proclaim Morris relentless support to socialism.

Grayson Perry is a textile designer too,
 but maybe not as classic as Morris.
The William Morris Gallery reopened after a major redevelopment in 2012, and now holds a temporary exhibition space, currently displaying David Bailey photographer the space has also housed artist Grayson Perry’s Walthamstow tapestry. From The Ministry’s point of view we can see a space so idyllically transformed where so many depths of a person’s life can be explored through the sight of their beautiful objects.

 Who will win? Well we will find out on the 4th of June, fingers crossed and best of luck for all of the finalists nationwide!

For more information and to find out where the judges have been this week 

And More information about the Museums...

The Horniman Museum is open daily from 10.30am to 5.30pm, entry is free but with a small charge for the aquarium. 
Follow them on twitter @HornimanMuseum and learn about the collection @Horniman Reviews

Dulwich Picture Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 10am - 5pm and Saturday and Sunday 11am - 5pm. £6 Admission cost for Adults.
Follow them on twitter @DulwichGallery

The William Morris Gallery is open Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm and is free of charge.
Follow them on twitter @WMGallery

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