The Sackler Lecture (formerly known as the Henry Cole Lecture) is an annual lecture that celebrates the legacy of the Museum's founding director and explores its implications for museums, culture and society today.
The inaugural lecture was delivered by Professor Sir Christopher Frayling on 30 October 2008.
The 2015 Sackler Lecture
Delivered by Boris Johnson, 29 January 2015
The Sackler Lectures celebrate the legacy of the Museum’s founding director Henry Cole and explore its implications for museums, culture and society today. This year’s lecture was given by Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, which focused on his vision to transform the Olympic Park into a world-class hub for culture and the creative industries. With presentations also given by Tim Reeve (V&A), Alistair Spalding CBE (Sadler’s Wells) and Frances Corner OBE (University of the Arts).
The Sackler Lecture 2015: Boris Johnson
Director, Victoria and Albert Museum
The lecture this evening explores the 21st century vision of participation, learning, innovation in art, design and performance. And it’s my great pleasure to introduce the speaker tonight: the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Just a few words, very personal words if I may say so in the beginning: museums are always changing with the society, they always change their role and it’s important for the V&A, here for the mothership of the V&A, to face out to new challenges in society and that’s one of the reasons why we want to go east. It’s a bit ‘Back to the Future’, not stopping progress but exploring that what our founding fathers, Prince Albert and Henry Cole, started working with practitioners, education, open to the society. Boris: thank you for being here.
Mayor of London
Thank you very much. [Applause] Thank you very much. Martin, you are in the great tradition of German cultural leadership in this city that begins of course with the man who made it possible for us to be here. By the time he died at the age of 42 and plunged Queen Victoria into an abyss of mourning from which she never fully emerged, it would be fair to say that Prince Albert had achieved more - with all due deference to the Queen and her brilliant progeny - than any other occupant of Buckingham Palace. He had fathered nine children, he’d been a composer of perfectly listenable music, he had designed army uniforms, and helped with the architecture of Osborne House, now the residence of the Chancellor (or shortly to be I imagine), he had campaigned for free trade and against slavery, and established the modern idea of a constitutional monarchy, as well as helping to impose the rigours of the traditional family Christmas on this country, and by his Germanic drive for moral and intellectual improvement he set a new standard for high-mindedness and came as close as anyone in history to persuading the British people of the German belief that ‘Ernst ist das Leben’ . And yet of all the things that today bear his name: African lakes, Canadian provinces, now defunct regiments of the British Army, up to including a form of Papua New Guinean bodily piercing much sported in Soho I’m given to understand (for reasons my researchers have been unable to explain), none, none is so redolent of his personality and mission as this museum in the heart of what was called, rather sarcastically to begin with, what was called Albertopolis. Because this was intended not just to be a museum in the sense of a place where curious and beautiful objects are entombed in sarcophagi of glass, this was meant to be part of an economic process of educating the British people in the importance of beauty and in the connection between culture and their everyday lives and businesses because Albert to begin with was not altogether convinced that the British shared his aesthetic sense. ‘The taste of the public is not what it ought to be’ - I put that into a lovely German accent – he complained in 1841 and by 1850 he was setting out his view of the vital correspondence between how things work and how things look. And it may be precisely because he was German, Martin, and came from a culture that has traditionally been less snobbish than the British about trade, less socially embarrassed about manufacturing and gaining wealth from manufacturing, that he saw a way of exalting and unifying his three interests: science, industry and art. And he said, in 1850:
‘Science discovers these laws of power, motion and transformation; Industry applies them to the raw matter which the earth yields us in abundance, which becomes valuable only by knowledge; Art teaches us the immutable laws of Beauty and Symmetry and gives to our production forms in accordance with them.’
In other words: they all go together. They’re all part of the same project. Science needs Industry in order to be of any value to the human race, Industry needs Art in order that its products may be pleasing to the eye and the touch, and therefore it made perfect sense for him to co-locate a series of scientific and artistic and cultural institutions here and to create what was a - what was then a remote, unfashionable patch of farmland - a cluster or a constellation of intellectual and cultural richness unparalleled on earth. And you just look at these institutions here in Albertopolis and what they have produced. Look at the genius they have spawned out of this teeming room of talent. We have from the Royal College of Art, we’ve had everybody from Ridley Scott to Tracey Emin to Thomas Heatherwick creator of the wonderful hop-on, hop-off fall over Routemaster bus that has been rightly restored to our streets after it was taken away, a design wonder that was wrongly abolished by the Health & Safety fanatics of Brussels. The Royal College of Music: Vaughan Williams, Holst, Andrew Lloyd Webber and many other great names. The Natural History Museum is not only home to Dippy the Diplodicus, now making way for a whale I understand, but the World’s leading expert on how we emerged from Africa, what we did to the Neanderthals and it doesn’t turn out to be very friendly. And as for Imperial College, it can claim credit for producing everything from Heroin – the first manufactured synthesised Heroin came from Imperial – the Maglev train, the rock group Queen came from Imperial College. And it is impossible when you add all those things up to compute the total contribution of Albertopolis down the years to British GDP. How many times has this site repaid in tax and in economic growth the £150,000 contribution wisely made by Disraeli to Prince Albert? The legacy of these institutions is themselves astonishing…is astonishing. They themselves, the institutions, are themselves of course legacy. They are the physical residue of that golden, glorious moment when London brought the World together and showed off this city and this country as never before in The Great Exhibition of 1851. That exhibition was a touristic success, it was a commercial success, with a profit of £213,000 and it succeeded in its aim of dispersing knowledge. The crowds in Hyde Park queued to see the World’s first fax machine, the first daguerreotypes, a new type of ice cream (I’m given to understand), a barometer that made use of leeches, and seemingly everyday objects that had been so cleverly designed as to become revolutionary, like new screws – a new type of screw with a gimlet end, exhibited by an American chap called Sloane. And these so impressed Nettlefold, John Sutton Nettlefold of Birmingham, I guess Keen and Nettlefold I suppose, that in ten years’ time British screw production had soared so that it eclipsed the rest of the World. And there’s a joke there somewhere. But it wasn’t, it wasn’t just a commercial, it wasn’t just a commercial and a technological success, it was a spiritual success the 1851 exhibition, wasn’t it? It was a moment of national self-confidence and excitements, a proud feeling that everybody was looking at us and being rather impressed. A euphoria of exactly the kind, that I would say, we experienced in the summer of 2012 and, which may be now fading a bit in the memory but I remember it vividly, and though it would be an exaggeration to say that the Olympics made a profit, a very considerable exaggeration so far, our objective today is to create a legacy that is in its own way as outstanding as the legacy of 1851.
And it was two years ago that we all got round and we looked at what we were achieving – perhaps more than two years ago now – we looked at what we were achieving in Stratford. You will see there on the left the largest new green park anywhere in Europe, we could hear already the drumming roar of the shoppers at Westfield there on the right, the biggest, more numerous, more avid than any other shoppers in the whole of Britain, probably in Europe as well. We had the best connected railway station there in the middle, the best connected railway station anywhere in Britain; fourteen lines going into it, including the prospect of connection to Continent with the Channel Tunnel rail link when Deutsch Bahn come in. And all the venues, all those sporting venues (you can see them there). The Aquatic Centre there with a sort of Pringle on top, that has hosted I think more than 60,000 people in swimming costumes since we opened it in April, everybody has enjoyed it, it’s fantastically successful and popular. The stadium, unlike most other Olympic stadiums, has a Premiership football going on there, or will shortly have Premiership football going on there, and Rugby World Cup coming this year. Hundreds of other events going on in our stadium next year, the year after, and the year after that. We were already, we were already conscious that we were far ahead of any other Olympic city in delivering physical legacy on the site and you can go to other Olympic cities and I’m sad to say that you will quite often see buddleia growing through the cracks in the empty Olympic swimming pools and tumbleweed blowing through the stadium. We knew that on that site we had already achieved something amazing and in 2012 we had done it really by moving huge numbers of people very fast and comfortably to the site and back. It was a triumph for TFL (of which I’m the proud chairman). And we could see, we could see property values already two or three years ago, we could see the property values coming up around the park and we knew that we had to create the jobs, the economic activity to go with the housing that was being built and so we decided to be even more ambitious. And there’s going to be fantastic homes – well you can see them already in the village – every home in that Olympic Village has gone now, all either sold or taken for social rent for affordable housing in one way or another. 50% of it is affordable housing. But huge numbers of homes coming forward across the rest of the park. The choice was: do we just build in more infill housing or do we go for jobs and for growth? And so we decided to be even more ambitious and to create an Olympicopolis, a phrase I continue to use or word I continue to use on my own virtually but never mind I will use it again tonight. An Olympicopolis. We are creating an Olympicopolis to the east. I think it would be pretentious to say to match but at least humbly to take inspiration from the Albertopolis in the west. And in doing that we could address an injustice about the Albertopolis that was noted at the time. The great architect Barry complained that Albert’s project – this is in 1852, I think – he said is far too much to the west for the general convenience of the metropolis, particularly for the industrial community and the working classes at the eastern and central portions of the town. And we could simultaneously go with the grain of the natural movement of the city and the life of the city to the east, as the artists and the designers and the techies and all those wonderful people with fixed wheel bicycles and jewellery in their noses spread out from Hoxton and Shoreditch, through Hackney to Newham and Tower Hamlets. Wherever they can find lovely tapas bars and good nightlife and relatively cheap rents and already they are taking huge amounts of – you can’t actually see it, it’s up there – what used to be called the IBC, MPC the vast media broadcast centre, a colossal great hanger of a building that is already now pullulating with these type of creative individuals. And we reckoned that by putting the right cycle links across the canals and across the Lee and by integrating the park properly with Hackney Wick, with Hackney generally, we can turn that Olympicopolis – and you can see the site there, hang on you can’t see it, this is it, here, can you see that big tongue of land? Right? It’s much, much bigger than it looks, it’s colossal, it’s colossal, by the Aquatics Centre. We can turn that Olympicopolis into a pole of attraction and the heart of an area of scientific, academic, cultural, artistic and creative activity. With UCL building a £270 million campus by the Orbit, that’s sort of down this…roughly where it says the Theresa Sackler Foundation, imagine UCL bringing in a huge…are UCL here tonight? Never mind. Thank you anyway UCL for £270 million. That’s going to be absolutely epic. And on that blank space, as I say, by the swimming pool the World’s top 300 architects are now competing to design a cultural centre. What I think Martin would call a Kulture Palazze or possibly a Kraftwerk, or something like that. Of a kind…what is the technical term? Of a kind to knock the Pompidou Centre, splendid though it is, into a cocked hat, mes amis. And into that Olympicopolis we will welcome, we will welcome: Sadler’s Wells, Alistair, the oldest and most distinguished theatre of dance in the World (that’s a point not going to be contested); the University of the Arts in London, who’s pre-eminence in fashion and design of all kinds attracts students from around the World; and there will be a V&A, a Victoria and Albert Museum east. A new V&A. And it will be a totally stunning thing and I’m sure represent the very best of the V&A’s collections and indeed new collections and new exhibitions also Martin has guaranteed. And as you will have seen from the papers in the last…and in that space obviously the V&A will be able to do – because it will be a gigantic space – you, Martin, the V&A will be able to do things that you currently can’t do even in this fantastic museum here in Kensington. And as you’ve seen in the last few days, we will have the Smithsonian Institution from Washington, one of the greatest museums in the World and the repository of the most extraordinary treasures from the most technologically and culturally influential nation on Earth here in London, almost exactly 200 years since the last shots were fired in anger, by the way, between Britain and America (shortly after we burnt down the Whitehouse). An institution that will not only give America a window on the World in one of the most deprived and diverse parts of Britain but which will incarnate, for my money, which will incarnate the values of freedom and tolerance and pluralism and democracy that unite Britain and America and that are by no means taken for granted or trivial around the World. And those museums and galleries, places of learning, academic institutions will be the seed beds of cross-fertilisation, the flash points of future ideas. And that, to get back to what Prince Albert was trying to do, has been the success and the immense cultural influence of this mighty V&A. And we’ve talked already about the people who have taken their inspiration, who the children, the epigomy of the institutions of Albertopolis, but just from the V&A I think I’m right in saying that Paul Smith, the designer (fancy suits and stuff), he was inspired specifically by the V&A. Alexander McQueen has paid tribute to the designs that he saw here in these galleries.
And I ask you now in conclusion, in concluding these points, I ask you to take out your iPhones folks. Has everybody got an iPhone? I bet you have. Has anybody got...or any other product of Apple? You’ve got one of these things. Now look at that, look at the beauty, the snazziness of this thing. Where did it come from? Where do you think it came from? What was the inspiration for this absolutely wonderful, snug little thing that we all have in our pocket? Where does it come from? Well, obviously, we all know that all great technological inventions come from somewhere in London. Where was the first TV set turned on? Anybody know? In a room above Bar Italia in Frith Street in…sorry Nicholas, a room above the Bar Italia in what is now Frith Street in Soho. Where was the first, where was Charles Darwin when he formulated the Theory of Evolution? Anybody know where he was? Which London borough? Well of course he was in Bromley. You go to Bromley and you meet the people of Bromley you understand; their natural, physical, intellectual advantage, you understand why he formulated the doctrine of natural selection and survival of the fittest. And so all around London. So where, from which London borough, where does it come from? Does anybody know? Where does Johnny Ive come from? Chingford. He comes from Chingford. Absolutely correct. And if you go to Chingford and meet the people of Chingford and you see their natural, intellectual advantage, as I say, you understand how his aesthetic sense was forged but it wasn’t just Chingford - to get to the juddering climax of my remarks – it wasn’t just Chingford that inspired him. His father was a silversmith as all of you may know and on the weekend, on Saturday or Sunday, for free Ive the elder would take Ive the younger here to the V&A to see what miracles could be wrought with metal and with glass. And to teach him that vital lesson that beautiful things are difficult, as they say in Greek. And that life is short but the craft is long to learn. And in the end what is this wonderful little thing? What is it? It’s just a telephone. And, in fact, in my view it doesn’t really work very well. I’m always losing my signal but I stick with it, I stick with it because it’s beautiful and it’s only because Johnny Ive is a brilliant designer that Apple is the most profitable company in the history of capitalism, with a Himalayan cash mountain and quarterly profits announced today of $11.9 billion. And so here in my hand you have proof of Albert’s insight into the fundamental relationship between Art and Industry. And our ambition must be that the children growing up in East London are inspired by that Olympicopolis that we will build and inspired to go in there and see the stuff on the shelves and one day – or however we display them in the future (shelves are probably a thing of the past) – one day some young person will take inspiration from something not just to create a brilliant British design but a brilliant British company as well, preferably bigger than Apple. That is what we are trying to achieve and, of course, it will take time but in six years by 2021 I believe that we will have an intellectual, cultural and artistic legacy in the Olympic Park that would have impressed Albert himself. Thank you very much. [applause]
Deputy Director & Chief Operating Office, Victoria and Albert Museum
Following Boris: everyone’s favourite opportunity. Thank you, Mayor, for setting out such a compelling and ambitious vision for the Olympic Park. I think for many of us when London won the Olympics the question wasn’t so much ‘could we deliver the best games of all time?’ or ‘will we win enough medals?’ but was much more ‘can we deliver an inspiring and lasting Olympic legacy?’ And I think those of us who have spent some time visiting the park over the last six to twelve months will see that we are already well on our way to delivering on those promises. And what I think you have outlined this evening will take it well beyond anything that has been achieved before as an Olympic legacy.
Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is Tim Reeve, I’m Chief Operating Officer and Deputy Director at the V&A. So the V&A today. We like to confidently claim that we are the World’s leading museum of art and design, founded – as the Mayor says – in 1852 after The Great Exhibition as the World’s first museum of design and applied arts. We have around 3.6 million visitors a year to South Kensington and the Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green, a large and varied programme all underpinned by knowledge, scholarship, and an almost bewilderingly rich and diverse collection of over 2,000,000 objects covering 3,000 years or more of human creativity, ingenuity and industry.
This is our home. We are very proud of what has been achieved here in terms of our public programme, not just exhibitions but our Friday Late events, where we invite neighbourhoods to put their stamp on the Museum, and especially of course our FuturePlan programme of renewal and refurbishment most recently demonstrated with the reopening of the Western Cast Court. And the story here will of course continue. But we could, as Boris and Martin say, do so much more and in different ways which complement what we do here at South Kensington. Can it really be right that only ten percent of our collection is on public display? And can it be right that Mick Jagger’s jumpsuit as you see here is not somehow permanently displayed for the public to enjoy?
So the V&A at E20. We’re describing it as a different kind of museum with participation at its heart, almost designed in from the beginning. A place in East London where design and public life meet, reframing the Victorian civic ethos for the digital age. And in working out how to achieve this ambition we start with a long list of questions. How do we make a truly open and participatory institution? How do we give public genuine access to more of the collection? How can we combine effectively research, curatorial design practice in a way that allows the public to see and participate in all of these functions? How can we reclaim our founding mission to support and improve design and manufacturing in the 21st century? And how can we make Britain’s first institutional home for new fields of design in the digital domain?
We don’t at this stage have answers to all of these questions, as you might expect, but we have a clear idea of what the main components of this new museum, V&A E20 will be. We’re imagining a spectacular, chronological display describing the story of 1,000 years of design and creativity. A museum arranged in neighbourhoods; four neighbourhoods weaving together galleries, research, conservation, learning and public spaces. A neighbourhood dealing maybe with textile conservation with digital design, architecture and the city, any number of subjects that we will look at over the coming years. The V&A research institute: bringing scholarship and research to a larger public. A large new exhibition and performance hall for London, not just for the V&A but something we will share with neighbours and partners. London is not over-furnished with major exhibition spaces and that will be one of the key components of the V&A E20. Residency spaces: around thirty residency spaces providing constantly changing and a participatory spirit for young practitioners, the general public and researchers alike. And crucially, if we are to really make this a success, new methods of display and retrieval of objects to allow the public to curate their own content and have the collection at their disposal.
So just a couple of finishing remarks from me before I ask Alistair to come up and say a few words about Sadler’s Wells. Firstly, for the V&A in E20 to be successful it really has to build upon and complement those things that we do so brilliantly here and mark this out as a great museum. This is our home and always will be. Secondly, this adventure depends for us on our ability to derive the maximum impact we can from the opportunities of synergy in this part of London and in the strength and ambition of the new partnerships that we need to build. I was once told that effective partnership was the suspension of loathing and the pursuit of funding and we really need to make sure that partnership for E20 is something that we all buy into from day one. Thank you. [applause]
So I’m going to hand over now to Alistair Spalding who runs Sadler’s Wells.
Alistair Spalding CBE
Chief Executive & Artistic Director, Sadler’s Wells
Thank you very much. So if you’re not sure what Sadler’s Wells is, it’s a theatre in London, it’s been first established in 1683 - so we beat all the competition there - by the great Dick Sadler in 1683. I came in a little later to the organisation. Most recently it’s become a dance house for London and the World. So we present all kinds of styles of dance but mostly we try and make dance that exists with choreographers who are still alive and kicking. So new work in all of these styles plus cutting edge contemporary dance as it says there. So the other thing which has happened most recently with the organisation is we’ve also started to produce work because we were always a receiving house before but we make work now and that tours all around the World, so that 121,000 people saw our work abroad last year. And so we’ve changed and we’re doing well. So we had half a million people come to the theatre last year in our three auditoria and we achieved 85% capacity. So it’s a real actually sign of - dare I say - that dance is the art form for now. Well I’ve just said it so…it is. And it’s really caught the right time. So we’re full but unfortunately we only have two spaces: a very large one, 1,500 seater, and a very small one, 200 seater. So we needed something in the middle. So this opportunity of the Olympic Park came along and we went for it because out there there is space and dance needs space.
So what are we going to do? We’re going to build a 600 seat theatre on the site. And why are we doing that? A number of reasons. As I say, we’ve got these two small and large spaces but for choreographers and dancers to go through their career they need something in the middle; they need a stepping stone if you like. Also, there’s lots of work which doesn’t come to London in dance which should come but needs a smaller, more intimate setting. Frankly there’s also some work we already present at Sadler’s Wells that should have a more intimate setting but we do it in a large lyric house. So that’s why we wanted to build this space. It’s also going to be a great opportunity to expand our production side so that we can have somewhere…the theatre at Sadler’s Wells is always full of either get-ins or performances, there’s no chance to try out our productions and give it technical time so we’re going to have the opportunity to do that as well. But also we wanted to take this opportunity to do two more things and this is really about the future because this part of London is about the future in my view. So we’re going to start a choreographic school. So somewhere that young people can come and learn the craft of choreography; what it is to make a new dance work. We’re already doing a little bit of that now but this is going to be a proper course for young people to come in and train in that way. And we’re also going to have the first hip hop academy in – well, I think – not the World but definitely in London. If dance is the art form of now, hip hop is the dance form for now. It’s happening everywhere and it is an art form and it is something you can train in. And I think particularly where we’re going because this is where all of the great hip hop companies who are making work at the Barbican and Sadler’s Wells, they all started out in the East End. Boy Blue started and are still practising their work there. So this is an opportunity to do that as well.
So what to do? The first thing: we want to try and keep going with what we’re doing. We’re particularly interested in cross-disciplinary work. So you’ll see the boxes there were made by Anthony Gormley, the sculptor, so that was a big collaboration with Sidi Larbi and the monks from the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province. So we want to continue to do that. And to particularly work with our other partners and I think this is one of the – on the site – this is one of the great opportunities that there is to, in this new possibility of Olympicopolis, is to really work with the V&A and with the University of the Arts, London College of Fashion and UCL to find new ways of thinking about these things. Obviously there’s the obvious connection between dance and fashion and also with the collection, the theatre and dance collection at the V&A, but we’re also interested in trying to…I think there’s a kind of common search here for ways of making, new ways making, as one of the current common themes across all these institutions going out there and I think it’s quite interesting to apply that to a very ethereal art form like dance. So we’re very excited about that. But probably the other thing which really excites me is where we’re going in this part of the city because it is a very young place, it’s got all the potential but it’s got a long way to go and I think there’s a big job there to really engage both with the organisations that are already out there doing great work in East London but also the young people. So my vision, if you like, I have two visions to finish off with. The first one is that the young people who will be working in Sadler’s Wells so the ushers and the box office staff, all the other technical staff, and even people who are performing on stages will have come from that part of London. So the next five years we want to try and see if we can make that work so that we’re not coming in there and landing like a spaceship. But the other vision I have – I mean Boris showed you the West Ham stadium – and my vision is that people come out of the station, may have done a bit of shopping at Westfield, going to the match at West Ham and they say ‘No, we’re not going to go to the match, we’re going to turn right and go and see some contemporary dance.’ So that’s what we’re doing and what we hope to do. And I would like to hand over to Francis Corner, who is the Head of the London College of Fashion and who will explain what their plans are. [applause]
Professor Francis Corner OBE
Pro-Vice-Chancellor, University of the Arts London
Head of London College of Fashion
Good evening, everybody. I’m absolutely delighted to be here this evening to be able to say a little bit about what we’re going to be doing as the London College of Fashion. But first of all I want to say a little about UAL, University of the Arts London. Many of you may have known it in its previous guise as the London Institute and all of you I’m sure will be acutely aware of its great art colleges: Central St Martins, Chelsea, Camberwell, Wimbledon, London College of Communication, and London College of Fashion. And in a way they are the perfect example of how design education - art and design education - were set up as a consequence of Prince Albert’s vision. And obviously we all have at least 100 years, all of the colleges have been established for over 100 years as a consequence of the vision he had for how if you are to really teach and educate in the right way for industry, for design, for creativity then again the British economy would have this edge, and these are the colleges and obviously it’s wonderful that we will be coming with the V&A and Sadler’s Wells to Olympicopolis. The other factor that I also think is worth pointing out is that obviously it’s not only the opportunity that these colleges have to design the future of our creativity and our economy and our society, but also they are great economic powerhouses in their own right. And again many of you will be aware of the move of Central St Martins to Kings Cross and the great role it has played in the regeneration of that particular area of London. And that’s why I think a very important part for the University is communicating to people that not only do we, as a university, generate these great graduates and alumni but also we make this very significant contribution to the economic and creative heart of London in a number of different locations.
London College of Fashion – and obviously it says a little bit here – now we’ve got well over 5,500 students in fact, we have 37% of our students are overseas, 11% are from Europe and the remainder are from the UK. So we have, again, a very global, international and culturally rich mix of students that we’ll be bringing to the Olympic Park. And again established over a hundred years, as I was referring to earlier, as a college to in a way train what was then young women to go and work in the couture houses of the West End. That relationship with industry is absolutely part of the DNA of the London College of Fashion. I often characterise it by saying that we have one foot in industry and one foot in education, and we feel again this will be a huge opportunity to really bring the college to the East End because much of our heritage is there. Originally part of one of our original colleges was the Shoreditch Technical College for Girls, many of you will be aware of Cordway – it’s a great footwear college – and they were all obviously based in the East End. And that was the other, in a way, point that I wanted to make. Many of you will see this is obviously a map of the East End and these are the relationships that we already have. We have an extensive network of projects, which I’m just going to say a little bit about. So we have this very strong focus in the East End so for us to actually bring all of the college together, as we currently hold six sites across London, to the East End to really build on what we already have there is extremely exciting. Many of you know, obviously as I said, great work that we do around industry and much of that, some of you may know, we have the Centre for Fashion Enterprise, which is currently based in Hackney and many of the designers that you see on London Fashion Week, whether it’s Peter Pilotto, Erdem, Meadham Kirchhoff, they have all been supported by the Centre for Fashion Enterprise. We provide an incubation space for these young designers to spend two or three years actually growing their businesses and also being able to tap into the resources in terms of the equipment and technical expertise of the college as they begin to grow and expand, and we’ve been extremely successful in that. We also do a lot of work in terms of corporate social responsibility. So we do a lot of work with prisons, charities, and an example of that is a project that we’ve done with Art Against Knives, which we held at our Golden Lane, where we do all our footwear and accessories which is very close to the Barbican and there, again, that was a week-long project for those who have been either members of gangs or suffered violence as a consequence of gangs to come in and understand that you can do positive work with knives rather than destructive, and they made the most wonderful bags as a consequence. We also have an extensive network of projects and relationships with schools because actually getting pupils to understand that education in fashion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be the next John Galliano or McQueen – we’re having the great show that will be coming here shortly – but actually if you want to be in the business of fashion in terms of the management, the retailing, or if you want to be a great pattern cutter, actually getting that message across in to schools very early on is what we do. A particular example is the Beal Academy, which has a strong focus on business, to actually get pupils there who are fourteen to understand that you can have an amazing career in terms of fashion management.
I thought I…I mean this is to show a few examples from our recent MA Costume for Performance, which we actually showed at the Lilian Baylis which is obviously one of the theatres at Sadler’s Wells because I wanted to make the point that not only part of the message that I often try and get across is that fashion is so much more than frocks but here we are obviously the whole issue of…if you think that in a way costume was once fashion, the skills that you need to make costumes for performance are actually those that you need to make with regards to fashion. And obviously we have a lot in terms of hair, make-up and all of those sorts of factors. So we have already this strong network of relationships with the partners that we’re going in to. With V&A we’ve shared research fellows; we’re again supporting in many ways the McQueen show that’s coming up. And also, for example, we already have relationships with University College London. We have psychology within London College of Fashion. We have a lot of relationships in terms of science and engineering. So I think one of the great opportunities, as both Alistair and Tim and obviously the Mayor have referred to, is in a way that sense of the relationships and the projects that we’ll be developing as partners is not just the fact that we bring our individuality, hopefully again we will be a real example of how we can all be more than the sum of our parts. And then in a way just in terms of LCF: I mean as I’ve alluded to, six sites across London, we work with obviously 5,500 students, trying to manage that is not the easiest of tasks so to be able to come on to one site, to be able to really foster a great sense of community, to in a way to be able to do more than we currently can because of the relationships that we can have better with ourselves but particularly with the partners that we’ll be located with and with the industries and the businesses not just on the park but obviously across the East End and across London. So we see that, you know, we’ll be able to play a huge part in the sort of regeneration, we’ll be able to have great links with the schools and with businesses that are there and with the artistic and creative community. And that as I sort of said or alluded to before, as a college we are truly international, we are truly global and to be able to place that at the heart of a hugely exciting project here in this great global and international city I think is a wonderful opportunity. So I am delighted that we’ll be able to join you. So thank you very much. [applause]
The 2010 Henry Cole Lecture
'The Curious Brain in the Museum'
Delivered by Professor Uta Frith, 18 November 2010
In this lecture, leading developmental psychologist and self-confessed 'museum addict', Professor Uta Frith (Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development at University College London and Research Foundation Professor at the Faculties of Humanities and Health Sciences, University of Aarhus, Denmark) discusses the historical connections between science and art at the V&A and asks 'What goes on in the mind of people who visit the museum?'
In this accompanying film commissioned by the Royal Society in connection with the 2010 Henry Cole lecture, Uta Frith discusses the issues raised from a child's perspective of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
UTA: Well, I've been asked by the Royal Society to give a lecture here at the Victoria & Albert Museum.
Speaker: Please join me in welcoming Professor Uta Frith.
[TITLE: THE CURIOUS BRAIN IN THE MUSEUM]
GIRL: What's the Royal Society?
UTA: The Royal Society is our National Acadamy of Science, and it was founded 350 years ago. There were some very curious people in London who got together
and wanted to know how the world really worked. They were tired of reading about that in books, they wanted to do their own experiments to find out, and then
they published the experiments so that other people could do them too.
Look at this! And have a look at this!
GIRL: What happens to my brain when I go into the museum?
UTA: Your brain is curious. The museum feeds its curiosity and makes a cycle out of stimulating your brain and rewarding your brain, and if your curiosity is
your brain's driving force, like hunger for your stomach, then it's like feeding your body with food and getting energy and feeling full as a reward.
Now, here is one of the greatest treasures of this museum.
GIRL: Wow, this carpet must be really special.
UTA: Yes, it's behind glass. And it's very dark so that the colours don't fade.
GIRL: It's like a giant pattern.
UTA: Yes, like a garden and for our brain this is a really amazing thing, like being in Aladdin's cave. There's even an Aladdin's lamp there. This is
repeating the same thing again, all different flowers and the brain likes this repetition, we like this order.
And here there are some patterns on tiles from Turkey.
GIRL: I see what you mean. It is the same pattern again and again.
UTA: Yes, they do repeat.
GIRL: Why does the brain put things in order?
UTA: Our brain puts things in order because it's part of our search for meaning. We love seeing the same thing put together in such a way that it looks like
we are all in control.
And these marvellous dishes, also from Turkey, have been put in this cabinet by the museum people, and again in an order because we love to see them like
GIRL: I like this bottle. Which one do you like?
UTA: I love this dish with the tulips and carnations.
GIRL: Oh Uta, look at this. It looks like a story.
UTA: I think it does look like a story, a story from One Thousand and One Nights. It's from Persia, and hundreds of years old.
GIRL: Do you think they're talking to each other?
UTA: Yes, they're talking to each other with their eyes. And I think they're talking to us. You see, that's what happens to the brain in the museum, we can
talk to the people from the past and they can talk to us.
Okay, now we shall come to the sculptures. Here is a really lovely one. You see this boy, how he's blowing the bagpipes and the little dog listening? Now I
think when the brain sees this it automatically wants to hold a pipe and play, and blow up the cheeks. Do you feel that too? It almost makes you want to do
the same thing, and that's how the brain works. It's like a mirror. And when we see these lovely pieces, these sculptures, we try to be ready for the same
kind of feelings that these people have. And you know it was made a very long time ago, in fact round about the time when the Royal Society was founded.
GIRL: Why do they have labels?
UTA: These labels are written by experts. It's really important to us to find out why an object's been made, and why it's valuable and why it should be here
in the museum.
GIRL: So every object can tell us a story?
UTA: Yes. We also want to find out what the creator of the object wanted to tell us, what was their intention. Remember, we're programmed to search for the
So, the museum is good for learning because you can go there and learn with your friends, or with your class, or on your own, and the objects you see in the
museum they communicate things to us. Things that people have done in the past. And some scientists say that communication is the most important part of what
makes us human. Museums help us to build a picture of our society, and it's what we call culture. They help us create that. So when you look at all these
beautiful objects you wonder who has made them, why they were made and they can inspire you to make your own things, to be creative yourself.
Look at these patterns. All over the world people love to create patterns, but the patterns tend to vary in different cultures.
I think we should have a look at this beautiful garden and these marvellous buildings here. And actually, you know, this was the very first building of this
museum and I think we should go and have a look at the door.
See how beautiful this building is.
And this really was the first entrance. What's interesting here is that on one side are all the scientists and on the other side are the great artists and
they're all working together. The idea of this museum was really to have a place for art and science.
GIRL: Why has he got his eyes closed, is he sleeping?
UTA: I don't think that's the intention. He's just very, very peaceful. He's the Buddha meditating as you can see from his hands and that he has his eyes
Now some objects in the museum are made to show off wealth and power and they are comissioned by very powerful people to show how rich they are to afford
this, but other objects are made to show a different kind of power, a belief, something very strong, and here you can really feel some other force. He's
emptying his mind and he's so calm and you can perhaps imagine what the museum is like when everybody has gone but the lights are still on.
I can see that you're very curious right now by looking into your eyes. Your pupils are very big when you're curious, and they get even bigger when you get
an interesting answer.
GIRL: Wow, it looks like it's all gold.
Is the brain like a camera?
UTA: Oh no, the brain is interpreting messages all the time, so it's not at all like a camera. We receive things through our eyes and other senses but what
matters is what we think a thing really is. And this is perception.
Okay, let's go and have a look at something else.
Look here, that's Oliver Cromwell.
GIRL: Do we learn things by copying?
UTA: Yes, we learn most from those people or things that we trust. Because these objects are in the museum we look up to them, we've learnt to trust them.
They can ignite our interest. Our brain runs a cycle between exploring new things and using what it already knows. This is good for your brain, this kind of
exploration and learning. It's like excersise.
GIRL: Look at all those books!
UTA: Yes, in this museum there are not only these wonderful objects, there are also books about the objects. And it's a little bit like the brain where we
have lots of memories stored, but also memories about memories.
GIRL: So is the brain a bit like a museum?
UTA: Or the museum is a bit like a brain. The museum puts things in order and creates meaning, and it stores things for us to remember. And there are all
these galleries which communicate with us just like the conscious part of the brain communicates with other people. And lots of people at work behind the
scenes process all these beautiful objects that we can then see. So there's lots of stuff going on in our unconscious mind so that we can then enjoy all the
What happens when we're learning is that our brain makes guesses and then it sends out tests to check if its predictions are right. And all this happens
without our knowing.
GIRL: Look at that painting, it looks like he's getting a piggy back!
UTA: What is it telling you?
GIRL: This man is giving his little boy a piggy back and it looks really fun.
UTA: That's interesting. Do you know what's happening? Your brain is interpreting the picture. Your brain is asking itself 'what is the intention of the
artist?' It's called 'Henry the Fourth, the Dauphin - his son - and the Spanish Ambassador', and what the painter wanted to do was to show what a fun Dad
this King Henry was.
GIRL: How do we understand what pictures and objects mean? Does our brain ask itself questions?
UTA: Yes, exactly. Our brain has this constant conversation going on. It asks questions and that's how we get answers. That's how the brain learns. It's just
like you and me having this conversation now - we are learning from each other.
GIRL: Okay, what are you doing?
UTA: I'm going to show you about expectation. So let's do a little experiment. What do you think this is?
GIRL: I can see a little curly tail. I think it's a pig.
UTA: Ah, good guess. Now take your hands away - and it's not a pig.
UTA: But your brain did right, your brain interpreted this. It's what we expect to see. But, in fact, now you know it's a bull. Mistakes are important, they
tell us things too. When you do an experiment and your expectations do not work out you can learn a lot.
GIRL: These must have been for really important people like the king or queen.
UTA: How right. These are really symbols of power. Of course they are very precious objects too because they're made of silver and they're very ornate and
very difficult to make. But the reason we like them and why we treasure them in the museum is of course because they mean such powerful things. They belonged
to the very powerful people.
In the museum you can explore and discover for yourself, you can open doors for yourself. You learn in different ways, you learn from other people, from the
labels and by just asking yourself questions.
Value is partly to do with how society sees itself, and how we see ourselves. But it's important to our brain for something that is valued to be the real
thing, to be genuine.
GIRL: That looks scary!
UTA: It looks a bit scary, but do you know what? I read just there that this leopard is not an original, it's a copy. And the real leopard is actually in
But it's funny, our brain thinks that a copy is not as valuable, it's not quite the same as the real thing. It's very important for us to know and to trust
that all the objects in the museum are really originals.
GIRL: Hey look, it's dark outside. It must be time for your lecture now.
UTA: Here it is, that's the auditorium. Are you coming? Are you curious?
The 2009 Henry Cole Lecture
'Do museums matter? Looking beyond cultural nationalism in Asia'
Delivered by Professor Hongnam Kim, 7 July 2010.
In this lecture, Professor Kim, former Director of the National Museum of Korea and a leading thinker on cultural policy, explores the changing roles of cultural institutions in Korea and other Asian countries rising to the challenge of demonstrating their value to their societies in the post colonial era.
My talk today is about the national museums of the People's Republic of China, Japan, and the Republic of Korea and the issue of cultural nationalism at these institutions. Japan was the first in Asia to launch national museums in the late 19th century, starting with the Tokyo National museum, followed by the Kyoto and Nara National Museums. The country now possesses about 4,000 museums. The Republic of Korea (hereafter called Korea) launched its central museum (National Museum) in 1945, absolving the Imperial Household Museum which existed from 1908 and of the Kyongju Museum. Korea now boasts about 1,000 museums. The first national museum which the People's Republic of China (hereafter called China) created was the National History Museum in 1915, followed by the Palace Museum in 1925 and the Museum of Chinese Revolution in 1961. China has set out to have more than 3,000 museums within a few more years. The seats of its 33 provinces already have their own museums, often of impressive scale. The museum fever is spreading in Asia. Economic prosperity and political stability obviously are the major driving force behind such an increase of museums in Asia.
These museums have followed the models of the West in their mission to preserve natural and manmade heritage, disseminate knowledge, and educate people, offering authentic experiences though exhibitions and education programmes. Nevertheless, one peculiarity observed from these institutions is the presence of cultural nationalism of varying intensity, which can be discerned from their collections and other programmes.
As proven by their birth years, cultural nationalism is indeed their birthmark; a powerful driving force in the colonial and post-colonial era, multilayered but with different agendas, it helped these museums join in nation-building or nation-rebuilding, and in consolidating national identity. But when too prevailing, or when left inmost, it can continue to shape all programmes, knowingly and unknowingly, promoting prejudice and disrespect among the people of three countries. It can even take a form of cultural imperialism in which hegemony (in a cultural sense) is the explicit goal of the nation states in relation to foreign cultures, as seen during the colonial period. National museums are the foremost example of social institutions of these three nations that are shaped in the penetrating process of corresponding (being attracted, pressured, and even forced) and even promoting the values of cultural nationalism. The outcome can be unhealthy and anti-educational, especially for children and the youths.
It was this issue of cultural nationalism which was of major concern during my tenure as the Director of Korea's National Museum. The question was how much of it is a necessity, and how much of it should be expelled to make the Asian community a healthier and more friendly one with mutual tolerance and respect. In this rapidly changing social world, there isn't much for us to hang onto. Museums, and perhaps universities and libraries, may remain as the last institutions for spiritual comforts, purification, and the reassurance of human dignity.
Now, first, let me brief you on the nature of cultural nationalism in the region. Then I will move on to describe how cultural nationalism was operating in the past, and what sorts of change have occurred to affect these museums in recent years. I must say that the subject turned out to be so loaded that it was like disturbing a beehive. I hope you will bear with me.
Cultural Nationalism and National Museums in East Asia
The first is the cultural nationalism and the national museums of East Asia. Cultural nationalism in East Asia is deeply rooted in the region’s geopolitical history. While I talk, I shall have on the screen a moving cultural map of 2000 years for the region as a simple historical survey. The dramatic changes in this map are the result of bloody wars, conquests, colonisation, and independence struggles which involved nearly 60 ethnic people-groups in the East Asian region. Included are the Han Chinese, the Korean and the Japanese who became the final winners in the region as of today. Naturally, ethnic solidarity, patriotism and nationalism were the strongest weapons in these struggles for ethnic and national survival and politic and cultural hegemony. The map ends with the colonial period when Japan nearly succeeded in taking over the entire region, only stopped by the atomic bombing of its mainland in 1945. During these dramatic turns of events, grievances, mistrust, hostility, hatred, racism, bigotry, vengeance, protectionism and ultra-nationalism were incubated and cultivated against each other. It took forms of anti-Japanese sentiment in China and Korea, anti-Chinese sentiment in Korea and Japan, and anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. Among all the countries which participated in the BBC World Service Poll in 2007 and 2008, 2009, South Korea and the People's Republic of China were the only ones whose majorities have strong anti-Japanese sentiment.
The map is still in flux. There has also been the continued territorial dispute over some islands currently controlled and claimed by Japan, but claimed also by China. Japan and Korea are still in debate over the Island of Dokdo in the shared sea of Korea and Japan. Still, numerous issues from the time of Japanese rule continue to generate ill-feeling in China and Korea. It has a lot to do with Japan's refusal to admit and apologize for its wrongdoings, refusal to compensate the victims, and to continue distorting history in school textbooks. The fact is that there can be no forgiveness if one does not ask for it, or wants to be forgiven.
The political situation has also gotten much more complicated owing to the division of Korea by the warlike, communist north [one slide is lost] and the pragmatic, democratic-capitalist south, a precarious situation which offers ground for political manipulation to China and Japan - the former siding with the North for its own interest, the latter as a reason for undue military build-up. China's recent annexation of Tibet and the land of Uyghur has made all their moves in the region suspicious of hidden intentions. Threatening is also the fact that China can exercise a vote in the Security Council at the UN. Japan has been nervous and defensive as China and Korea have posed serious challenges and threats by encroaching upon its share of world trade. With the memory of the pre-Modern era when China exerted its political dominance and cultural imperialism on them, Korea and Japan are cautiously watching China’s recent rise as a world power. We do not really know how this map will change in the future.
This time-old, threesome affair resulted in an interesting phenomenon, that much of the cultural nationalism has been internally oriented within the region. But now it comes to have an added dimension as they are interwoven in the global competition in economy and culture. It is either to reclaim the mastership of Asian culture to the world as in the case of China (well felt at the opening ceremony for the 2009 Summer Olympic in China); or to rebuke such a claim in the case of Japan (holding to its past glory) or to prove its own significance and cultural identity in the case of Korea (as revealed by the new national museum building). All three are involved in globalization but largely without forsaking cultural nationalism. This is in line with what Henry Kissinger wrote in his article, 'Price of Globalization' (for a newspaper of Abhu Dabhi. Gulf News, May 27, 2008). I quote, 'For the first time in history, a genuine global economic system has come into being with the prospect of heretofore unimagined well-being. At the same time - paradoxically - the process of globalization tempts a nationalism that threatens its fulfillment'. Yes, it is true that the trend of globalization fired up cultural nationalism in a new way, however more inclined towards contest than the earlier oppression and aggression among three countries. Globalization has inspired regional solidarity and alliance to guard the region against the powerful outsider. There has not been the formation of an Asian Union like the European Union. It may not be possible as long as two ideologies, namely communism and democracy, co-exist in conflict in Asia.
Now let us turn to the museums themselves. Given the time limit I shall refrain from giving you too many details for each museum under discussion. First, national museums of China.
National museums of China
There was a time when the Chinese culture was represented by the two great national museums; the Palace Museum, Beijing, in that Forbidden City and the National Palace Museum, Taipei. But in the last ten years, The Communist Party decided to create a new national museum of China by merging the existing History museum and the Revolutionary Museum attached to the Tiananmen Square. It is due to open within this year. In a rather dusty condition, rarely visited, it had been more famous since 1990 for its Countdown Billboard hung on its 313 meters long façade for such events as the resumption of China's sovereignty of Hong Kong (1997) and of Macau (1998), and for the Beijing Olympics 2008, as you see here. And it was recently for the 2010 Shanghai Expo. The State Administration of Cultural Heritage has recently handed over to the Museum about 400,000 cultural relics in its possession, as an addition to the existing 600,000 items. Major archaeological discoveries heretofore housed in provincial museums will be presented on a rotation basis. When it opens, the exhibition space of 192,000 square metres will more than double the previous space. It will have 28 new exhibition halls and state of the art exhibition facilities and storage. The Museum will become one of the largest in the word, not to mention in Asia. The collection is to cover the Chinese culture from the Paleolithic period through to the end of Qing dynasty, as well as all the mementos for the achievements of the Red Army leading to the founding of PRC. Obviously cultural nationalism will remain a strong undercurrent geared by the State.
The Palace Museum collection in the Forbidden City shares the Ming and Qing imperial collection with the National Palace Museum Taipei. Quite a number of objects from this collection also went overseas during the chaotic time of dynastic collapse and in the early part of the 20th century. Limited by the nature of the space and the collection, the Museum could not extend its programmes much beyond its holdings. However, lately it managed to create a space for special exhibitions for international loan exhibitions; it has held such exhibitions as the one from Vienna’s royal collection.
Both museums have not held Asia-related exhibitions in their history as far as I know. In 2007, however, when I met the Director of the new National Museum, he revealed a plan to install a permanent space to show Asian art on a rotation basis. It would be interesting to see what will be the fundamental concept of exhibitions for this Asia Gallery; would it be [based on] cultural diversity, cultural relativism, or continued cultural imperialism? [Would it express] objectivity and aesthetic appreciation? Would it be too hopeful to imagine that they will try to show the East Asian culture flourished as a creative extension of, and eventual independence from, the Chinese culture as exemplified in Western art history and by the great Western museums which have recognized all important achievements of different countries and regions in the West. China’s nationalism and cultural nationalism coming from both the state and the people were understandable at a time when China, having escaped from the crisis, felt insecure of its national and cultural identity, and defensive of Western culture.
Now time has changed. It is hopeful that Chinese historians, art historians and aesthetic minds who would come forward to link all Asian culture and art in a holistic approach. Hopefully, China, a big country, stands with a big mind to embrace cultural and ethnic diversity and history of the region and redefine its larger role in the region. Again hopefully there will be no more of the old Han-Chinese mentality that 'We are the center of the world, we are the sum of Asian culture'.
Now let us move on to the national museums of Japan.
National museums of Japan
Unlike China and Korea whose holding of cultural relics, both public and private, is much limited to the heritage of their own people, Japan’s holdings cover a diverse range from its own to the Western art and to that of Asia, especially of China and Korea. The country’s East Asian holding began very early on, when Buddhism was accepted as state-religion, initiated by the regent prince Shotoku Taishi and the ruling Soga family of Korean origin in the late 6th century. The building of Buddhist temples in their political centre Asuka called for the import of Buddhist artists and temple builders from Korea, whose descendants were mobilized to build the world’s oldest surviving wooden architecture, the Horyuji temple, the images within.
From the Nara period of the 8th century Japan turned away from Korea to Tang China and its culture with great enthusiasm. A large number of Chinese cultural relics began to pour into Japan as well testified by the Shoso-in imperial treasury in Nara. Another large-scale import of Korean craftsmen took place during the Japanese invasion of Korea during the reign of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in the last decade of the 16th century. During this war, the peninsular was reduced to ashes and all palaces and Buddhist temples were sacked before burning. The Japanese taste for Korean ceramics developed under the influence of Senno Rikyu, the famous tea master and connoisseur in the house of Hideyoshi. The daimiao of Kyushu was the last to join the War under the condition that their reward will be the Korean potters (a large number of potters were taken to Kyushu as captives) This resulted in the rise of Kyushu as the centre of ceramics in Japan and in the world. Thus this war has been popularly called in Japan and Korea as the 'Ceramic War'.
This imported continental culture became the foundation for the Japanese to invent its own unique culture from the Heian period on. Another significant inflow, this time from China, was in the field of painting. Masterpieces of Chinese painting of Southern Song, rejected by China’s literati collectors, entered the treasury of Japanese monasteries in Kyoto and resulted in a great flowering of Japanese ink painting with such masters as Josetsu and Sesshu of the 15th century. This list of Japan's importation of Chinese and Korean art can go on and on until the last large-scale inflow of Chinese and Korean art and crafts during the colonial period.
Such respect and admiration for the Chinese and Korean culture began to switch to that of disrespect at a certain point in Japan's history. The first sign appeared during the reigning years of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, an expansionist himself, with an ambition to conquer and plunder Korea and China. But the decisive turning point came with the Meiji Restoration of the imperial power during which time cultural imperialism began to prevail Japan. As Asia’s first industrialized country with a modernized army, Japan struggled to attain equality with the Western Powers which otherwise would have colonize the country [they believed]. A decision to distinguish itself from the rest of backward, inferior Asia called for its policy of 'Separation-from-Asia'. In other words Japan no longer wished to be a part of Asian civilization from this point. It is uncertain whether contemporary Japan has completely abandoned such a notion.
A rich depository of Chinese and Korean cultural relics has been handed down to the present mostly in pristine condition. It was possible thanks to the very special sense of care and preservation of all things of the Japanese people and the absence of foreign invasion in Japanese history except for the civil wars, which luckily left temples and imperial palaces mostly intact. At times when Japan’s economy slows, the Chinese and Korean art objects surface on the international market, whose sellers are from Japan. Such richness of East Asian cultural relics would have been enough for Japan to possess a museum in match to the biggest institutions of the West to showcase the Asian civilization and culture. But it is not the case with the state-run national museums. But some private collections of Chinese and Korean art which did go public, namely the Sumitomo Collection, the Idemitsu Collection for Chinese art, and the Ataka Collection for Korean ceramics which eventually entered the Osaka Museum of Oriental Ceramic Art.
Although the Tokyo National Museum[now you've already seen the slide of the Museum] has maintained one separate building called Toyokan devoted to Asian art. It has been left dusty with little signs of curatorial activities for a long time, not to mention the depressing state of Korean art display on the 3rd floor with few visitors. Kyoto and Nara National Museums would have Chinese art on small-scale displays, but Korean art is shown sporadically and is mostly limited to the Buddhist context. I used to comment on this observation when I saw the directors of the Tokyo National Museum. They would smile back at me in agreement, and talk about the lack of acquisition fund and their future renovation plans for the Toyokan. They also expressed an honest concern over the possibility of a repatriation dispute with China and Korea, once on public display - an issue too large and delicate to cover in today's talk.
One positive note to end this part of the talk on Japan is that there has been a significant change in the governance of national museums in Japan as part of the national government's administrative reform programme. In 2001, three formerly independent national museums - Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara National Museums - merged under the official name of the corporate entity called Independent Administrative Institution (IAI) National Museum [a long name!]. In 2005, a fourth institution was added - the Kyushu National Museum. In 2007, this museum entity is again merged with the National Research Institutes for Cultural Properties consisted of the Tokyo and Nara Research Institute. Finally all brought under the Independent Administrative Institution National Institutes for Cultural Heritage.
As a long-term goal, Japan's National Museum aims to enhance its function as an educational facility, and as a platform for international cultural exchanges and the dissemination of Japanese culture. Short term planning is focused on improving the efficiencies of operation and enhancing the range of services provided to the public, and consolidating the museums' financial position.
This consolidation, however, meant the restructuring of manpower by cutting at least one-fifth of the staff; it also meant the reduction of government budget by about 40 percent, as well as the staff rotation among the institutions. Still experimental at this stage, it has brought hardship on the staff who had been so used to the old system. But, eventually they may enjoy, probably and hopefully, 40 percent of independence from the Government. Now we will wait and see what our museum colleagues in Japan will do with this newly acquired freedom, as spelled out in their mission statement, and whether they will be able to turn this freedom into the freedom from Japan’s own burden of the past.
Now, let me move on to the National Museum of Korea, the last museum I will be talking about.
National Museums of Korea
Historically a significant sign of Korea's burgeoning cultural nationalism appeared in relation to China, which was the invention of Korean alphabet in the early 15th century. Initiated by King Sejong, the project was to resolve the discrepancy between the spoken language of its own and the written one borrowed from the Chinese writing, and the resultant high illiteracy. The project was carried out as a top secret, kept from both the Ming Chinese government and the Korean Sino-sycophants who would have opposed it as a challenge to China’s political and cultural authority. As a small country, adjoined to the Chinese mainland, Korea had to endure the domineering attitude of China for its survival, but not without mixed feelings throughout its pre-modern history. Nevertheless, Koreans have kept basic respect for China as a cradle of East Asian civilization.
But the case of Japan is quite different. Historically the Korean people considered the Japanese culture being at the receiving end under its own influence. Thus the two Japanese invasions in the last decades of the 16th century came as great shock to Korea and resulted in the initial anti-Japanese sentiment among its people. However, it was Japan’s colonial rule over Korea for 36-years from 1910 through to 1945 that caused the fully-fledged anti-Japanese movement. Recorded as the most atrocious in the world's colonial history, Japan set out to erase Korea's core identity, artificially replacing the local religion and language with its own. It was indeed heretofore the worst practice of cultural imperialism. It was during these colonial years that Japan also developed prejudice towards Koreans, labeling them as the inferior people to be ruled. In the year of 1965 twenty years after the liberation when the government of two countries agreed to open a diplomatic relationship, there were demonstrations and riots throughout the country against the decision, which I myself witnessed vividly as a junior-high student at the time.
The very fact that the new Korean government established the National Museum in 1945, the very same year of liberation is very telling of the museum’s significance in the process of nation-building and consolidating national identity. The collection was meagre [to start with], made up of the Royal collection of rather mediocre quality. [This picture shows small building in the palace complex which housed the collection] The only non-Korean objects were the Han Chinese material excavated in Lolang, the present Pyongyang of North Korea and the Otani collection of Central Asian Buddhist art, both of which were left behind by accident when the Japanese left Korea hurriedly after the surrender. The only hope for enhancing the collection was archaeological discoveries of ancient tombs, Buddhist monastic sites, and old ceramic kiln sites. This is the reason why the department of archaeology has been the most powerful at the National Museum of Korea. Six out of eight Directors were archaeologists before me, in its history. Nothing Japanese was allowed in the Museum, which reflected the nearly hysterical anti-Japanese mood of the society at the time in all spheres.
This anti-Japanese sentiment was a major source for cultural nationalism in the post-colonial era of Korea. However, after the Seoul Summer Olympics of 1988 things began to change. Hosting the event successfully, Korea earned international recognition and gained confidence and pride. There sprouted quiet wishes to be free from the heavy burden of the colonial past. All felt the 50th anniversary of the liberation in 1995 was the time to do something about it - either to vent out the emotion or to overcome it. The government decided it had to be the demolishment of the Japanese Government’s colonial building, the ultimate symbol of Japanese rule and of Japanese imperialism. There was an intense public debate on the issue. The President and his cabinet, and other demolition proponents argued that the building was a symbol of Japanese rule that had been built deliberately to deface the Palace of Gyeongbokgung and to weaken the geomantic potent of the city. Opponents countered that Korea, now a prosperous country, should no longer be troubled by such symbolism and that the reminders of the Japanese era were needed as historical lesson to future generations. Indeed the building was the scene of numerous historical events, housing first the National Assembly and then the Capital Building and so on. Nevertheless, the demolition began on Liberation Day, August 15, 1995, marking the 50th anniversary of the end of Japanese rule. The world would have taken the action as a sort of hysteria and a sign of ultra-nationalism. But to most of the Korean people it was a national sacrifice to the lost 36 years and to all victims of the time. By late 1996, the building was gone, taking with it the earlier intensity of anti-Japanese emotion from the Korean people.
In this event, the National Museum took a direct blow, since the building had been the home of the National Museum from the year 1986. Having to move again less than ten years, this time with no building ready to move in, some young staff expressed concerns over the safety of cultural relics and even staged a demonstration by a covenant of joint signature with the catchphrase, 'Build the museum first, Demolish the building later'. However, the government confirmed the decision to move the Museum into a temporary building within the palace complex and made public its plan for a new National Museum, this time of a grand-scale, to become the largest in Asia, The result is the present building for the National Museum which was opened in late 2005, after nearly 10 years of preparation.
With the new Museum Korea seems to have entered a new phase of cultural nationalism, more relaxed, rid of the postcolonial and post-War resentments and self-pity. One significant step was to stop being a museum indifferent to other Asian cultures. The government accepted a proposal by the program committee to add an exhibition hall devoted to Asian art. But this move was somewhat counteracted by the addition of the Hall of History, pushed by the historians, who were armed with strong nationalism. The lack of a historical collection was one reason given by the opponents who insisted building a collection first, and then an independent history museum. The outcome was otherwise, as seen in the slide on the screen. The need to fill the History Hall ensured inter-departmental tensions over the limited pool of relics. As a consequence, the Hall of History had to be left pretty much devoid of the cultural narration of history since the other two departments of Fine Arts and of Archaeology were reluctant to share the cultural relics which had been under their care. In the midst of all this, the Hall of Asian Art was left uncared for with no department responsible for its upkeep and programmes.
Less than a year had passed when I was appointed as Director in August 2006. The museum was not quite settled in terms of organization and programmes. Those yellow-marked on the chart are the departments I managed to install or upgrade while in office. The programme of exhibitions, education, and acquisition were also found to be in need of more historical objectivity and inclusivity if the Museum wished to be a truly representative of Asian and Korean culture. This direction, when successfully implanted, would have influenced the 11 regional branches under its directorship.
With the new department of specialist curators, the Hall of Asian Art was finally taking a better shape with a separate gallery for the South and Southeast Asia, the Central Asia, Himalayan region, China and North-eastern Asian, Japan and the Chinese relics excavated from Lolang and the peninsula's seabeds [of course there have been some new arrangements in the last two years and this chart may not be the same now]. Two-thirds of the acquisition fund were spent on the purchase of non-Korean objects covering China, Japan, and India. I used to say to the staff who were worried over such unprecedented move; 'We’d better do it, since this will probably happen only while I am in office'. It turned out that my staff and I were both right. They were right to worry since I had to stand in front of a hearing committee at the National Assembly who furiously criticized the acquisition of non-Korean objects, labeling the action anti-nationalistic. I was also right that there has not been much non-Korean acquisition since I left the Museum. Since the Museum is 100 percent funded by the government, it is often censored on its spending and on the number of visitors. But there have been some signs that the government may take a similar action as in Japan sooner or later to make the Museum less dependent on the government for its need of approximately 100 million dollar annual funding for the central museum in Seoul and its 11 regional branches.
At any rate, acquisition alone was not enough to fill the galleries and energize the Asian programme; it needed loans and exchanges of exhibitions from outside of Korea. This awareness helped initiate the organization of the Asian National Museums Association. It was delightful to receive the welcoming response from the directors of national museums in China and Japan. The photo shows the first meeting of three directors to plan the organization. The second year meeting was held at the Tokyo National Museum. Consequently, the Chinese Art Gallery received a long-term loan from the National Museum of China; Loans from the Vietnam Ethnology Museum Hanoi made possible a special exhibition of Vietnam; there were also long-term loans from the National Museum of Indonesia for the South and Southeast Art Gallery. The Japanese Art Gallery received long term loans from the Tokyo National Museum to make up for the shortage of objects and to organize special thematic exhibitions. Delightful as all these were, the exchanges were still in one-way direction. It was hoped it would not remain so when the Special Gallery for Asia is in operation at the National Museum of China, and when the Toyokan of the Tokyo National Museum is finally renovated.
As a way to conclude my talk, let me read you part of the welcoming remark I gave at the inauguration of the Asian National Museums Association on the morning of October 25, 2007. It reads:
'I would like to welcome all directors and representatives from the national museums of Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam, Mongolia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Over the past decades national museums in Asia have exercised cultural leadership in preservation and promotion of one's own cultural heritage, but admittedly with little interest in the culture of neighboring Asian countries. We have been all immersed in one's own cultural heritage for many, many reasons - mainly as a defensive mechanism as a post-colonial reaction or in face of the Westernization of culture, or as both. The National Museum of Korea was not an exception in this regard.
Today we are gathered here in Korea to inaugurate the Asian National Museums Association, with a shared belief that now is the time Asian countries begin to think beyond one's own cultural nationalism to understand and appreciate the rich cultural diversity of Asia and its contribution in the making of the Asian civilization'.
Well three years have passed since the welcoming remark, and it is amazing that I am here to talk about the same issue as passionately as ever. I must regret that, given the time constraint, I could not touch on the National Museum of Taiwan and the National Museum of North Korea, as well as many other related issues. I shall end my talk here and I thank you all so much for being with me tonight. Thank you!
The 2008 Henry Cole Lecture
'We Must Have Steam: Get Cole! Henry Cole, the Chamber of Horrors, and the Educational Role of the Museum'
Delivered by Professor Sir Christopher Frayling, 30 October 2008.
In this lecture, Frayling presents new research on the 'Chamber of Horrors' (a contemporary nickname for one of the V&A's earliest galleries, 'Decorations on False Principles', that opened in 1852) and the myths and realities of its reception, and opens up a wider debate on design education and museums from the 19th century to the present day.