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Daily Archives: July 23, 2008

No sketching at the NGV

I have sketched in many galleries around the world, even in the crowded Uffizi gallery in Florence with tour groups moving around and the gallery attendants calling out “No flash! No flash!” I have taken copious notes in major art galleries and photographs (without a flash of course). There have never been any problems, it has been common practice for centuries which is why the no sketching, no note taking policy at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) is an aberration.

“Sketching and photography are not permitted in this exhibition (no pens or pencils will be permitted inside the exhibition).

Kirsty from the NGV email enquires claims that: “During the exhibition Art Deco 1910-1939, sketching and note taking is not permitted as this condition is set as a requirement of loan from lending institutions for the exhibition. This is to ensure the safety of the delicate artworks on view and to allow visitors a better experience of the exhibition.” In 2004 Corrie Perkin, NGV head of communications, claimed that the no sketching policy for The Impressionists was to obey strict security conditions of private or institutional lenders.

I am skeptical about Kirsty’s claim for a number of reasons (I am skeptical of the claims made by any person who doesn’t give their full name). I can’t prove that the V&A set the policy because the V&A press office will not return my emails however the V&A’s own policy raises doubts. “You may take photographs or use a video camera in the galleries, but not with a tripod, monopod or supplementary video lighting. Flash photography is permitted.”

The idea that this is to ensure the safety of an artwork is absurd because it claims that the standard practice of V&A and other major museums does not ensure the safety of the artwork. And the ‘better experience of the exhibition’ is debatable and not a real reason that the V&A would give for not permitting note taking. There is so little fear that sketching will damage the art that many public art gallery around the world promote sketching. The J.Paul Getty Museum in LA has a special sketching gallery where it provides paper, pencils, charcoal and art sticks to the visitors. This is not unique when I visited the Courtauld Gallery in 2000 there was small still life exhibit with drawing table and materials.

In December 2004 there were protests by Free Pencil Movement against the NGV’s policy. And the NGV responded claiming special provisions for blockbuster exhibitions and over zealous and confused gallery attendants. However, the repeat of this policy for the “exhibition organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum: Art Deco 1910 -1939” begins to strain my imagination.

It is hard to find other no sketching policies, most galleries permit sketching on a maximum size of an A3 sketch book with no charcoal or chalks, no sprays or fixatives and an enclosed pencil sharpener. This is because the original purpose of a public art gallery was an educational resource for younger artists and designers. The V&A collection was assembled “to inspire those who shape contemporary design” and “as resource for learning and creativity”. The purpose of an exhibition where sketching and note taking are not permitted is strictly infotainment (and as promotion for the catalogue and other merchandise).

The earliest example of a no sketching policy that I could find was in 1867 when Mr William Colliss, an amateur artist was not allowed to sketch Warwick Castle. Mr Colliss drew a sketch of the incident from memory. I did find that at the Cleveland Museum of Art sketching was also not permitted for temporary exhibitions. This lends some credibility to the NGV’s claims although it doesn’t reduce my skepticism of the reasons behind it and my dislike of the policy.

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