I have been musing, as one does, on 2021, prompted not least by the host of articles on its best and worst.
The first part of the year, so far as I was concerned, was dominated by the publication of my book The Art Museum in Modern Times. It now seems long ago – lots of online talks, conversations and podcasts. I attach links to the two I most enjoyed in case you need some Christmas diversion: one on Youtube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=el1sR-VKTWM); a second, a long meditative conversation with Jarrett Fuller (https://scratchingthesurface.fm/201-charles-saumarez-smith).
I hadn’t anticipated the extent to which restitution has become such a dominant subject in museums, not just the big, multidisciplinary, archaeological museums, but museums more generally, as if collecting, classification and the academic study of the cultures of the past are inevitably tainted by the legacy of colonialism. There’s now a good short book on the subject by Alexander Herman.
I was able to see the new Munch Museum in Oslo, thanks to reviewing it for the Burlington Magazine: a big event museologically; not a particularly lovely building from outside, a storage silo on the docks, but, providing the lifts don’t break down, a wonderfully rich resource for the study of Munch and his influence on contemporary art, for locals at least as much as for international tourists.
The fight to preserve the Whitechapel Bell Foundry as a working Foundry ended in May. It will now presumably be turned, as planned, into a boutique hotel, although I can’t help but notice that work has not begun, several other hotels have opened in the neighbourhood, and one wonders if the market for luxury hotels is as buoyant as it was before the pandemic.
Meanwhile, several other big projects in the City have been turned down: the skyscraper next to the Bevis Marks Synagogue; the development of the Custom House. Perhaps the mood will turn towards regeneration rather than comprehensive and destructive new development. It should.
My exhibition of the year was Becket at the British Museum (https://charlessaumarezsmith.com/2021/06/24/thomas-a-becket/), which I went to twice, both times with Emily Guerry, herself a Becket expert. I would also add Hals at the Wallace Collection, which I did not blog about, but really enjoyed – much more than I expected, having inherited an art historical view that he is a touch too obvious in his bravura.
Will 2021 have been a political turning point ? It does begin to seem so, as the right wing and the newspapers themselves turn against the government as arrogant, seedy, self-seeking and corrupt and Starmer and his front bench begin to be viewed as solid and serious, as they deserve. But there’s a long way to go.