Contemporary Art Society Launches New Acquisition Initiative For Regional Museums

A  new scheme launched by The Contemporary Art Society (CAS), aims to address the lack of important works of Contemporary Art in regional museums, across the UK. British contemporary artists who have established international reputations over the last 20 years are barely represented in most collections. The initiative was presented this morning at a breakfast held in the North London studio of Antony Gormley. It was attended by Ed Vaizey, Minister of State for Culture and Tate Director, Sir Nicholas Serota. 

Outside Tate, the British Council, Arts Council and Government Art Collections, there are very few or no works by many leading British-based artists such as Sarah Lucas, Mark Wallinger, Rachel Whiteread and Wolfgang Tillmans. It is increasingly clear that as the market rises exponentially, museums across the country are struggling to collect the work of living artists of established international reputation.

With generous support from the Sfumato Foundation, a new Great Works award will be established which will enable one major work by a leading British artist to be purchased each year for a UK museum or gallery. The 69 museums across the UK that make up the CAS’s Museum Membership will be eligible to apply for the award, the majority of which are outside London.

The winning museum will be asked to make a strong case for how an acquisition of this scale would benefit the institution in relation to their audiences, scholarship and profile of the museum. In particular, the successful applicant will make the case for the acquisition of work by an artist with a substantial connection to the museum’s existing collections, city or region. The deadline for applications will be the end of February 2016 and the successful applicant informed in March 2016. The work acquired will go on show to the public at the winning museum in 2016/17.

Caroline Douglas, Director of the CAS: “Collecting the art of our time is the lifeblood of a museum and it has now become practically impossible for many museums in the UK to do so without philanthropic support. It is particularly important because contemporary art appeals to young people and is often the way that they are introduced to our great museum collections.”

For over 100 years the CAS has channeled philanthropic support of contemporary art to museums the length and breadth of the country.  In addition to landmark gifts to Tate that have included Picasso, Matisse, Anthony Caro and Damien Hirst, the CAS has a track record of substantial support to regional museums: CAS gifted a major painting by Francis Bacon to Huddersfield in the mid-40s, an installation by Olafur Eliasson to Eastbourne in the late 90s and most recently donated a work by rising star Hito Steyerl to GOMA in Glasgow, the first work by this artist to enter a public collection in this country.   

Up and down the country museum collections help to define cities:  the Kurt Schwitters Merzbau at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle is a case in point; Birmingham is famous for its world class collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, Derby for the work of the first painter of the spirit of the industrial revolution, Joseph Wright of Derby; the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool has collected many outstanding works through its John Moores painting prize, the SNGMA in Edinburgh is notable for its collection of British and European Surrealism.  Great works make for destination museums, and contemporary art in particular connects people to the culture of their own time.

Photo: P C Robinson © artlyst 2015

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