It was good to attend the Collecting Contemporary event in the University of Edinburgh’s Playfair Library on 16th February 2016 which included a preview of the upcoming Collecting Contemporary website, and coincided with both the inaugural publication of Affiliate’s new imprint and the opening week of British Art Show 8, showing in the adjacent Talbot Rice Gallery, Inverleith House and the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art.
Lively presentations on contemporary collecting practices at the University of Glasgow, the Modern Edinburgh Film School, GoMA, the University of Edinburgh, Salford University, the Hunterian, the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in Preston, and in non-gallery domestic situations were provided by Tina Fiske, Alex Hetherington and Katie Bruce, Kirsten Lloyd, Neil Lebeter, Sacha Waldron, Rose Lejeune and Lindsay Taylor. These talks were followed by a provocative keynote on value and use in contemporary art practices and their curation, delivered by Alistair Hudson, Director of Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art (mima). A packed three hours were deftly compered by Kirstie Skinner, our 2015/16 Fellow in Contemporary Art Theory and Curating in History of Art at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Director of Outset Scotland.
The whole afternoon set me thinking about corollaries between the contexts of contemporary art collecting and those which pertain in the field of contemporary design and material culture, and the ways in which those political, economic and societal changes that are impacting on the gallery and museum sector, play out in higher education. Alistair’s ‘manifesto’ keynote was instructive in this manner, and the ways in which he is conceiving mima as a sustainable, important, valuable, interesting, popular, experimental, habitual and useful institution, built on a broad concept of ‘usership’, certainly resonated with the ideas we have been sharing with colleagues at ECA since its incorporation into the wider University, and, in tandem, with how the University has been responding to the presence of an art school at its core.
Those aspirational mima aims towards a unified, holistic educational offer, integration of departments, celebration of institutional personality, stimulation, national and international cultural influence, civic contribution and belief in the artful project are concepts we can all get on board with. Transformational (as opposed, perhaps, to relational) aesthetics is indeed a way in which art can become useful and a part of the ‘real’ world. That said, the romantic dandy in me left me longing subversively for some useless art (or at least the right to make, understand and enjoy it) and a space in which beauty and pleasure might still be pursued without guilt.