I only made it to the afternoon session of the academic conference Frenemies: Friendship, Enmity and Rivalry in British Art 1769-2018 (odd that the start date chosen was 1769 and not 1768, as if the first RAs were all friends – definitely not the case – and that it was only in 1769 that differences of opinion and artistic rivalries first surfaced). It was organised by the Paul Mellon Centre alongside the exhibition The Great Spectacle. I heard three papers: Hannah Westley describing and exploring the implications of her interviews of Paul Huxley, John Hoyland and other artists who first came to prominence in the early 1960s; Hammad Nassar who gave a fascinating account of a gallery in Cumbria, which I knew nothing about, but whose proprietor, Li Yuan-chia, had an exhibition co-organised by Mark Jones at Modern Art Oxford in 1972, while Mark was still an undergraduate; and Amy Tobin who is researching and writing about women’s art in the 1970s and 1980s and how and where it was exhibited on both sides of the Atlantic. The purpose of the conference was to describe what were described as ‘affective relationships’. In the concluding session, an anxiety was expressed that this could end up just being a new form of antiquarianism, about people rather than art. I thought that social anthropology gave thick description and the analysis of social networks an intellectual currency long ago and that art history hardly needs to be embarrassed about borrowing its legitimacy as an academic pursuit.


4 thoughts on “Frenemies

  1. Mark Fisher says:

    Is the text of the central Paper on line? Will you say some more about the early rivalries and splits in the RA ? Certainly Reynolds, for all the cleverness of his Discources, was not entirely liked, By Gainsborough, of course, and by people like William Blake, who deplored what he was promoting.

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