Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hang It All - They've Hidden Everything

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Hang It All - They've Hidden Everything

Article excerpt

Byline: BRIAN SEWELL

SOME years ago, angered by a particularly meagre annual re-hang of TateBritain, sponsored by BP, I stood at its door and asked 100 visitors, on thepoint of leaving, two simple questions. How long, deducting time spent in thecafe and the cloakroom, have you spent in the gallery? And how long did youexpect to spend? To the second the answers varied from a couple of hours to afull day. To the first the average was 45 minutes. That was a year when fewerthan 500 exhibits were on view, many of them absorbed and understood at thefirst glance, many not even worthy of that one glance. Since then the re-hangshave been a little more substantial, but this year the offering again seemswretchedly thin and again I am inclined to question whether this annualmerry-go-round is of any value to the public.

To BP, of course, it is of inestimable value, for its arts sponsorship,generous though it may seem, is entirely for its own advantage, not for thebenefit of the sponsored institutions. As a judge on the BP Portrait Award ayear or two ago I was disgusted by the manipulations and demands of the judgerepresenting BP in the interest of the firm's advertising and perceivedpolitical correctitude, and I wonder what part these may play in the choicesmade by the Tate's curators in re-hanging. Whatever the case, we shall see inall sorts of quarters over the next few months the gallery's paintings (ours)reproduced as advertisements for BP, the texts discreetly casuist to prove thatthe firm that fills our petrol tanks also nourishes our cultural stomachs andaesthetic souls..

My argument against the annual re-hang is not, however, primarily against theuses BP may make of it for its crude commercial purposesfor I am Jesuitical enough to recognise that an end may justify a meansbut that in this case the end is not worthwhile. Tate Britain owns somemasterpieces and other works that are of national and international interest;these are few enough always to be on view for the benefit of visitors fromManchester and Moscow, and on view they should be. …

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