The radical decline in government funding for the arts in the UK has been widely reported over the last few years. Over the same period, declarations about the decline of connoisseurship, or even a ‘crisis’ in the practice of art history, have become more frequent and more vociferous. Are these developments linked, and if so, how? What is at stake in contests over connoisseurship, its value and future? My paper will reflect on these questions, and what they might expose about shifting relationships between public and private value, the state and the market, and academic scholarship, the museum and the marketplace. Focusing on the UK situation and on British art studies, although in the belief that these offer lessons of more general relevance, I will suggest the larger intellectual and political context for these developments, notably in the legacy of the ‘new Art History’ of the 1980s and 1990s, which proved particularly fractious in the context of UK museum culture, and the profound changes around ideas of cultural and educational access which accompanied the marking of the millennium. My title is deliberately ambiguous: has connoisseurship been ‘put in the shade’ by the continuing ascendance of free-market ideologies in the cultural realm; or has it, unexpectedly and perhaps even counter-intuitively, actually been sheltered and cultivated by the same developments?
About Martin Myrone
Martin Myrone is Lead Curator, British Art to 1800 at Tate Britain, London. He specializes in eighteenth and nineteenth-century British art, and has published monographs on Henry Fuseli, William Blake and George Stubbs, and the major study Bodybuilding: Reforming Masculinities in British Art 1750-1810 (Yale University Press 2005). His exhibitions at Tate Britain include Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination (2006), John Martin: Apocalypse (2012) and British Folk Art (2014).