Thursday, January 16, 2014

Rebel artist at the Maritime Museum - new museum policy on sketching

Back in December I visited the Turner seascapes at the National Maritime Museum for the third time. I was actually on a bit of an admin break... I'd taken my laptop and sketchbook to the NMM cafe to get out of the house and get through some spreadsheets, planning sketching breaks in between coffees. 
A study of Turner's painting of Hannibal Crossing the Alps.
Notice the absolute lack of attention to duplicating detail ;)

So when I was stopped from sketching in the Turner exhibition, I tromped upstairs and asked to see a manager. (I wasn't rude to the exhibition assistant - I know it's not their call!) See, back when I was a member of the art club at the museum over a decade ago we had this debate with management about sketching in the museum generally. In the end we overcame their objections. So I was concerned if that had reversed after all this time.

My sketch of one of the paintings in the exhibition - done from the catalogue book afterwards.

I had a chat with Daniela Weber-Thomas, who was very receptive and tried to explain.

I think we both felt a bit "trapped" really! I couldn't see any reason not to allow pencil sketching - and don't know of any other museum that doesn't allow it in special exhibitions. But of course could understand her point of view too - the Turners were a pretty scary valuable show of loaned work. They simply haven't had anything of this scale ever. Seriously, ever. So yes, you're going to draft policies as conservative as possible!

So I was hopeful to see some sort of resolution for artists.

She did say that groups could contact the museum for visits to arrange particular days for visits when they could sketch. (so keep that in mind for your social/art societies!) A very nice offer, but as we know many of us just pop in galleries spur of the moment. We always have a sketchbook in our bag. So as a local, I like to drop in once in a while for a break. A bit of Turner, a bit of Ansel Adams, a bit of astronomy photography... their special exhibitions can be a 15-20 minute visit for me sometimes just to get out of the studio. So we don't all want to make appointments for a bit of quick casual sketching of the nation's favourite artist.

Another sketch of one of the paintings in the exhibition - done from the catalogue book afterwards.

I also mentioned the possibility of iPad/tablet sketching - in case mark-making implements were the main concern. You see, I'd been at the member open night and walked in circles around the exhibition taking pages and pages of notes in Bamboo Paper with my stylus. Many of the staff saw me, I smiled at them, chatted to one. (I probably looked a right looney going back and forth between sections saying "ooo!", yes probably out loud, making notes as I noticed connections between artworks.) So clearly the iPad wasn't an issue. So I asked Daniela if perhaps I could tell artists that iPads were okay at least. She was surprised we used them! It did make me smile, and I mentioned Hockney's show last year at the RA.

The notes I scribbed like a madwoman on my iPad
at the Turner seascapes exhibition members' night

To my pleasant surprise, I received some confirmation from Daniela this week about sketching in the museum.

Firstly, I am extremely grateful that she took the time to chat to me, and that she really made the effort to speak to various levels of staff involved in the exhibitions.

Secondly, it's good news! New policy, and staff have been briefed:
"Visitors are permitted to sketch in the National Maritime Museum temporary exhibitions using black or colour pencils. The sketchbook must be small enough to be held in the hand. If the room in which they are working becomes busy, or if the person sketching is blocking a thoroughfare, the Visitor Assistant has the right to ask him/her to move. Stools might be used if the exhibition is not busy and at the discretion of the Visitor Assistant. Sketching is not permitted in busy exhibitions."

I'm so please at this news - thank you, thank you Royal Museums Greenwich!

See the coast paintings
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