How far should the commercialisation of fine art go?
June 6, 2002 3:09 PM   Subscribe

How far should the commercialisation of fine art go? The British Museum has licensed an on-line company atelier 350 to sell reproductions of some of the drawings in their collection. This article argues that the sales description is misleading and if replicated on a wider scale could harm the general public's perception of access to the collections in the long run. I agree that museums have to raise funds somehow and I'm not against the selling of some of the more popular images, however, surely their first responsibility must be to educate not to distort or hide the truth in the way which is shown here.
posted by feelinglistless (9 comments total)
I don't see the harm. If the musem wants to raise money by selling reproductions, so what? If the distributor happens to write borderline dishonest ad copy, so what? (Don't all advertisers do that anyway?) His description of how he was able to view the originals drove home the point (to me) that they are, in fact, not very accessible. I don't see how he concluded from his experience that they were freely available for all. Besides, if I want to hang one on my wall, how else am i going to do it besides buying some overpriced facsimile?
posted by plaino at 3:46 PM on June 6, 2002

What Atelier 350 offers are incredibly well-produced and archivally sound prints.

However, any print in an edition of 350 created today from work by, say, Rembrandt is absolutely without value besides the ink, labor, and paper. It is no more fine art than a photograph I would take of that work (unless I were Louise Lawler). These prints are completely different animals from original and contemporary lithography.

The sales trip by Atelier is no more misleading than Franklin Mint's, which is sad company for the British Museum to be in. The Museum isn't hurting as bad as the writer makes it sound: Prints and Drawings Department alone received £628,000 in two major gifts in 2001, so I can't imagine why they'd go this tacky route.

I have to disagree with Plaino. Any schmuck with an ID can walk in off the street and personally handle these drawings on request. That's a huge deal.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 4:32 PM on June 6, 2002

I don't have a problem with reproductions of works being made, but using the terminology "previously unpublished" is inexcusable when dealing with Old Masters which are included in catalogs and exhibitions.
posted by dejah420 at 4:42 PM on June 6, 2002

RJ Reynolds: Well the museum really is hurting for cash. Attendance is down by 1/3 (almost exaclt mirroing the 1/3 fall in London tourism) - they're looking at a big deficit. As you note, this is more than a little tacky though I'm not sure how much control or sight they'd have had over their partners ad copy. I hope none, I fear not.
posted by nedrichards at 5:49 PM on June 6, 2002

I don't see the dire tragedy implied in the article, though I do agree it's unusually tacky. I'm not sure that some vague "perception of access" is something worth sputtering over. One is reminded of the dictum about academic spats.
posted by dhartung at 6:16 PM on June 6, 2002

Wait you can just walk off the street and actually touch the drawings of Rembrandt?! I can't believe they would allow that. I mean if it was me I'd approach them as if they had the only cure for cancer on them. Of course, most people are a little more careless. I really hope the application was more than "are you going to steal these or cough on them or do anything stupid." Is this the case with other museums? If so how do you approach them? "So can I play with your expensive things?"
posted by geoff. at 9:26 PM on June 6, 2002

They're a bit more security conscious than that. There aren't restrictions but if you do want to look at one of the more 'expensive' works they'll probably ask if it's for legitimate research purposes, and they'll kepp their beady eye on you the whole time ...
posted by feelinglistless at 11:02 PM on June 6, 2002

Well the museum really is hurting for cash. Attendance is down by 1/3 (almost exaclt mirroing the 1/3 fall in London tourism) - they're looking at a big deficit.

Isn't admission to the BM free? I do know that I once paid for a special exhibit there but the last time I went (really to see Sir Norman's amazing roof — maybe you can see the deficit in those details) I do not recall buying a ticket. Aren't most London museums free?

I did not finish the article — I was quickly annoyed by the writing style.
posted by Dick Paris at 11:32 PM on June 6, 2002

How far should the commercialisation of fine art go?

It shouldn't. Art is made for itself.
posted by leafy at 6:44 AM on June 7, 2002

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