All Great Art Is Contemporary

Reflections on the second Curators Programme at Frieze Masters 2017

Frieze Masters 2017 partnered with the National Gallery, London for the second Art Fund Curators Programme, which brought together leading international experts and UK regional museum curators, including Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam and participants from Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk Virginia; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, among many others.

Taco Dibbits, commented: ‘Great art is always contemporary. At the fair, I was struck by the range of art works on show, from a ritual disc at Ariadne Galleries to an Egyptian shabti boat at Phoenix Ancient Art to a portrait of Hassan El Berberi at Colnaghi, which was very striking for its intensity, its modern composition and its subject matter: something you would not usually expect to see in this context. What struck me going around was the fact that objects from several thousand years BC coexisting with more recent artworks. The desire to care for these things is something very human and universal. I found that very inspiring’.

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Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum, in front of a portrait of Hassan El Berberi at Colnaghi, Frieze Masters 2017

Taco Dibbits, Director of the Rijksmuseum, in front of a portrait of Hassan El Berberi at Colnaghi, Frieze Masters 2017

Mary Hersov, Head of National Programmes at the National Gallery, London, added: “The National Gallery runs the Subject Specialist Network,  European Paintings pre-1900 and a selection of our members who are UK based Curators of Dutch paintings were invited to take part in the Curators Day at Frieze Masters. We held an informative and lively discussion with our colleagues from Europe and the U.S.A about how to create exciting new displays, exhibitions and public programmes to engage audiences by involving contemporary artists and also via digital platforms. The group were then taken on a tour of Frieze Masters which they found very helpful.”

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Curators Programme in session at Frieze Masters 2017

Curators Programme in session at Frieze Masters 2017

Stephen Deuchar, Director, Art Fund, said: ‘Frieze Masters offers the chance for museum curators across the UK to access international knowledge and expertise. Art Fund helped facilitate the process by bringing together the Rijksmuseum's director general Taco Dibbits with Art Fund trustee Richard Calvocaressi, and curators involved in the National Gallery's pre-1900 painting Subject Specialist Network (SSN). The session began by exploring ways in which curators working with Dutch old master paintings can better engage audiences through imaginative exhibitions, creative rehangs of collections, and digital technology.

The conversations revealed many museums today searching afresh for “authenticity”, mirrored by their audiences’ pull towards the real in a digital world. Taco described the Rijksmuseum as being like the ‘photo album of the country’. His approach is to be as low tech as possible inside the museum, and as high tech as possible outside. Museums are a place to make sense of the world as it is, but they can also help shape it.

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Curators from the Curators Programme tour the stand of Dr Joern Gunther Rare Books at Frieze Masters 2017

Curators from the Curators Programme tour the stand of Dr Joern Gunther Rare Books at Frieze Masters 2017

There was consensus that whilst curators are under constant pressure to widen their skills beyond their specialisms, there remains real demand for specialist knowledge from the public, who, for example relish the opportunity to walk around the museum with the curator.

Interesting trends around collection displays were also revealed: the 'thematic versus chronological' debate remains in some quarters, but there was wide acceptance that the juxtaposition of objects across periods and genres can be historically and art historically revealing. On the balance of contemporary and historic, the group strongly felt that all great art is contemporary in its relevance today, and new life can, for example, be breathed into an old master placed in the context of current graphic design and architecture.”

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