Der Rhein II © Andreas Gursky, courtesy of Christie's.
Three of the UK’s largest cultural institutions – the Tate, V&A and National Media Museum – have invested more than £2.1m on expanding their photography collections over the past three years, finds Olivier Laurent, after making a series of Freedom of Information requests.
Until 2006, the word “photograph” didn’t even appear in Tate’s annual accounts. Things have changed since then, with the institution appointing its first curator of photography last year, and now planning a blockbuster show in the autumn featuring William Klein and Daido Moriyama. In fact, over the past three fiscal years, three of the UK’s major museums have heavily invested in the medium, with Tate, V&A and National Media Museum spending more than £2.1m on expanding their photographic collections.
BJP uncovered the figures after filing a series of Freedom of Information requests to the three institutions. Their answers show that they are now using more of their resources to acquire photographic works – in fact, while National Media Museum spent just £134 on expanding its photography collection in 2007, in 2010 that number had increased to more than £148,300.
The V&A spent a total of £428,251 on photography acquisitions between April 2007 and 31 March 2011, it tells BJP. The funds “came from a number of sources, including donations from private individuals, from the Sir Cecil Beaton Royalties Fund and from departmental and museum central funds”. Two further sources have allowed other acquisitions to be made, as “the Art Fund enabled the collection of contemporary Middle Eastern photography, in collaboration with the British Museum, and the Heritage Lottery Fund supported Staying Power, a joint project with the Black Cultural Archives focused on collecting photographs relating to the black British experience from the 1950s to the 1990s.”
More dramatically, Tate spent £1,467,061.51 from 2007 to 2010 on acquiring 252 bodies of work from a variety of photographers, agencies and galleries. “These works have been purchased through a combination of funds raised specifically for photography acquisitions, as well as general Tate funds,” the institution tells BJP.
Last year, Tate set up a photography acquisitions committee that, according to BJP’s sources, has an annual budget of around £200,000 [BJP #7788], but it has also spent on top of that. Fir example, Andreas Gursky’s Bahrain I – a 280×197cm photograph on paper produced in 2005 and acquired two years later for £340,250 – is one of the institution’s recent acquisitions, and helped bring the total figure for the years 2007 and 2008 to more than £570,000.
Tate’s interest reached a peak in the fiscal year from 2009-2010, however, with more than £659,000 spent on 182 pieces of work. This includes £70,000 spent on six of Paul Graham’s photographs from his Troubled Land series, most of them shot in 1984 and 1985 in Derry and Belfast, as well as £108,000 for 103 of Keith Arnatt’s photographs. Tate invested £38,687 in 13 images shot by South African photographer Guy Tillim, and £85,837 in “Perspex, resin, steel and three black-and-white photographs” dubbed Hatred by artist Gilberto Zorio.
These recent acquisitions mean Tate now holds more than 1370 photographs. Its collection includes 69 photographs shot by Diane Arbus in the late 1960s and early 1970s, a photograph of Andy Warhol shot by Richard Avedon in 1969, six images by Bill Brandt, two by Henri Cartier-Bresson, five by Thomas Joshua Cooper, one by Elliott Erwitt, and one by Mitch Epstein.
In 2009, Tate spent £286,078 on buying five photographs by Robert Frank – including Story A Story B, Memory for the Children, and Studio, Mabou – bringing the total number of Frank’s images it owns to 23. The institution also keeps six of Nan Goldin’s images and 65 of Robert Mapplethorpe’s, but its most valuable possessions might be seven images shot and printed by Andreas Gursky – including a copy of Der Rhein II, currently the most expensive photograph in the world after another print from the edition of six sold for $4.3m at a recent Christie’s auction [read below].
Tate is keeping quiet about the overall value of its collections, however, declining to answer BJP’s request for more information. “Tate seeks and maintains information relating to valuations of its collections only when works are to travel out of our direct possession and care, usually on loan to third parties for exhibition or display,” it states. “Therefore, for many of the works [in our possession] we do not hold valuation information.” In addition, it says, “Where that information is held, it is Tate’s policy not to release specific information because it could endanger the safety of those people responsible for the care and safety of our collections.”
Similarly, the V&A only values objects in its possession at the time of acquisition, and if they are loaned out or included in touring exhibitions. “The estimated 300,000 to 500,000 photos in the collection have never been individually valued in their entirety and the sheer volume of items prohibits the museum providing an itemised list.”
For the National Media Museum, meanwhile, valuing the collection presents a more fundamental problem. “Some of the material within the National Media Collection may be perceived as being absolutely irreplaceable and, as such, it is incredibly difficult to place a financial value on it,” the museum tells BJP. “Even if we were able to do this, the fluctuating art market might perhaps render valuations meaningless in a relatively short space of time.”
Perhaps this is why institutions such as Tate and the V&A are seeking different models for raising monies for donation. Both have launched acquisition committees that require members to donate a fixed fee to join, which is then used to buy photographs for their collections, replicating what investment funds do in the financial world, except that Tate and V&A members donate – one assumes – for purely philanthropic reasons. “Tate’s Photography Acquisitions Committee is a donations scheme, which aims to raise funds to purchase photographic works for the Collection,” says a spokesperson. “The fundraising targets for the Committee have been withheld as we believe it would prejudice Tate’s commercial interests to release these.”
The V&A, meanwhile, now has a Photographs Acquisition Group that aims “to raise money specifically for acquisitions of photographs”.
“This will provide a new fund to enable the Museum to broaden its photography holdings and acquire works to help fill noticeable gaps within its collection,” states the institution. “The overarching aim of the group will be to consolidate the museum’s position as one of the foremost photography collections in the world – we hold the National Collection of the Art of Photography.”
The V&A is running its Photographs Acquisition Group in a similar way to its existing Director’s Circle, inviting, in the first instance, 10 photography collectors to pay £10,000 per annum each to be part of the group. “In return they are invited to become more closely involved with the photography department. Our ambition for the first year is to attract £100,000, and we are well on the way to securing pledges for this amount.”
The National Media Museum continues to be “largely dependent on grants and foundations, patrons and donors and, not least, the generosity of the photographers themselves, without which we would be unable to deliver our aspirations for the development of the National Collection.” But the Bradford-based organisation plans to raise its profile in the next couple of years by opening a London gallery at the Science Museum. The project is still in development, though, as the institution needs more than £4m to complete work on the new gallery – so far, it has invested £405,835, as of October 2011. BJP understands the London gallery won’t open until late 2013.
Eight for Tate
Tate alone has spent nearly £1.5m between 2007 and 2010 to acquire 252 bodies of work from a variety of photographers, agencies and galleries. Here are its eight most expensive investments over that period of time.
- £340,250 - Bahrain I by Andreas Gursky.
- £286,078 - Images from the Story A Story B and Memory of the Children series by Robert Frank.
- £108,000 - Series of 103 photographs from the Walking the Dog, Gardeners, and A.O.N.B. projects by Keith Arnatt.
- £85,837 - Hatred by Gilberto Zorio.
- £69,996 - Series of six photographs by Paul Graham.
- £43,668 - Series of six photographs by Taryn Simon.
- £38,687 - Series of 13 photographs by Guy Tillim.
- £20,000 - To Walk Into - Massacre on the Mount, Jerusalem, 08 October 1990 by Gustav Metzger.
Andreas Gursky's records
Andreas Gursky's Der Rhein II became the world's most expensive photography in November 2011 when it went on sale at Christie's New York, writes Joanna Cresswell.
The glass-mounted 350x200cm image, of which there are six copies, sold for $4.3m (£2.7m) overtaking Cindy Sherman's 1981 Untitled #96 that sold for £2.4m - also at Christie's New York - back in May 2011.
The photography, exceptionally minimal in its details, has caused a lot of controversy, as the artist digitally removed anything that would intrude on the bleak effect of the photograph, including cyclists, dog walkers and even the factory building in the background.
Tate, which has heavily invested in photography in the past three years, holds a copy of Der Rhein II in its collection. It also has Cindy Sherman's Untitled #97, #98, #99 and #100.
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