the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

An Exhibition So Big It Can’t Happen Again

Posted by gninja on October 18, 2007


(Michelangelo’s Manchester Madonna)

This sounds like the coolest thing… ever.  At the Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, an astonishing 16,272 works were assembled for a mass audience.  16,272.  All works were gathered from the private collections of very wealthy individuals and placed in display.

According to the journalist who wrote the piece:

This, then, is Manchester’s legacy. A century and a half ago, a few far-sighted wealthy individuals coaxed a lot of other wealthy individuals into letting the masses get a look at their priceless art. Having given it the once-over, the people decided that great art was simply too precious to be hidden away for the rich, and in a fairer world would just have to be shared with the rest of the nation.

Sounds like a little too touchy-feely a conclusion to me.  Especially after mentioning:

The organisers had, it was true, decided to base their event in the leafy surrounds of Old Trafford, well away from the belching chimneys of the city centre, but that was hardly the point. It was one thing for better-off folk in the shires to enjoy artistic treasures, far from the grime and sweat of the factory floor, but quite another to start introducing it to the impoverished masses. (And they were definitely impoverished: life expectancy in Manchester at the time was just 26, the lowest of anywhere in the UK. It was not uncommon for mill workers to live 12 to a room.)

So, when it was all over, with the glass palace dismantled and the artworks taken down, art historians – as snobbish a bunch, some of them, as the southern toffs – tried their best to forget it had ever happened.

Mostly I mention the article because 1) I would give quite a lot to have seen that exhibition and 2) with prices for museums (at least here in NY) like the MOMA, Guggenheim, and The Frick being so high, I wonder how public art really is.  Sure, moreso than when it was almost exclusively in the hands of private collectors, but certainly not as much as we like to tell ourselves it is.

One Response to “An Exhibition So Big It Can’t Happen Again”

  1. […] As I’ve indicated in at least one previous post, I do think it’s imperative that art be made visible to as many people as possible.  But for more than just the sake of argument here, the dismay that this collector will not be donating his 2000 pieces to LACMA sounds far more related to the prestige of the institution than to the accessiblity of the art it would display.  In fact, the public visibility of art is not mentioned once in the article. […]

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