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Sunday, 24 August 2014

Privatisation? Selfies? A Resignation? What's going on at the National Gallery? #MinistryOpinion

What is going on at the National Gallery? The past weeks have seen the institution fall into disarray that has seen the resignation of Nicholas Penny to selfies in the gallery and an online campaign against privatisation an incredibly unsatisfied work force. 

Penny's resignation last month came after only six years as director and a hugely successful period in the history of the gallery, he has overseen the acquisition of two titan paintings ( Diana and Actaeon and Diana and Callisto) the block buster exhibition of 2011/2012  Leonardo da Vinci: Painter in the Court of Milan and sky rocketing visitor numbers. It's a sad time for the art gang on Trafalgar Square as his resignation followed that of Sandy Nairne director of  NPG. Fortunately both have left for personal reasons and are claiming that they will continue working in academia, nonetheless its a sad loss for the National art collections with the guardian even claiming that 'This looks depressingly like the end of individuality in the museum world.'


Next came the shock decision to allow photography in the permanent gallery spaces - of course excluding those works with complicated copyright or on loan. Whilst I relish in the concept of social media and the masses infiltrating the spaces once occupied by the elite I can't help siding with those cynics stating that the experience of visiting the national art collection will be tarnished by the continued stop and start of people pausing to take photograph without looking at the iconic pieces of art. Having spent a summer working in the numerous shops within the gallery I can tell you that trying to pass through the permenant collection spaces at any speed over zero miles an hour is impossible, already overcrowded with large school and tourist groups the rooms stagnate due to overcrowding less than pondering the works. Surely the stop and start nature of iPhone photography is only going to hold up that experience and prevent those not wanting to photograph from actually experiencing the art? 

Whose going to notice anyway? It looks like the staff of the National Gallery will soon loose their jobs to a cheaper workforce with reports that 600 out of the 800 staff members are due to be privatised in the coming months including those responsible for information requests school bookings  What does this mean? For staff the loss of benefits, a government pension and less options for career progression. For the gallery and public, a transient workforce with less knowledge and expertise. 


Are we seeing the National Gallery transform into a museum of the future? I hope to see positive changes, perhaps a fresh faced and hopefully female appointed by December, photography allowed but to enhance a visit not to replace it, and a strong workforce that feels cared about. 

If you disagree with the privatisation please sign the petition here: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/no-privatisation-at-national-gallery


 Addendum: we would like to make it clear that we fully support increased access and the use of photography in museums and galleries. Yet we encourage our readers to think critically about the industry, it's future and the decisions of national institutions. In this instance we feel that impending  privatisation of the National Gallery's workforce caused the decision to allow photography, thus promoting questions as will the change in rules reduce the amount of staff in the galleries? How will those visitors who do not wish to take photographs enjoy the space? And how will a gallery already so overcrowded monitor crowds and ensure that those works on loan or with copyright restrictions are not photographed? 
Regardless we do not want to see the staff of a national gallery privatised and urge you to sign the 38 degrees petition. 

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