events archive

Should we junk collections?

6:30pm, Monday 16 May 2005, The Wallace Collection, Hertford House, Manchester Square, London W1

What is the future for museum and gallery collections? For some time, cultural institutions have been criticised for neglecting their treasure troves of objects, instead concentrating on developing audiences, access and inclusion. Recently, however, there has been a renewed focus on questions of what we should collect and why. There is the familiar argument about whether museum collections need to grow, when so many works that are seldom displayed. But today’s debates about deaccession and acquisition seem driven less by pragamatic considerations of space, and more by political considerations relating to cultural ownership, repatriation and social relevance.

As museums reposition themselves as agents of social change, new criteria are being developed for what should be collected. Communities are asked to donate everyday objects of local relevance as an exercise in enhancing community coherence; young people are recruited to curate exhibitions of objects meaningful to their lives; cultural and ethic groups are consulted as to how certain collections are to be displayed and interpreted.

Are we in danger of sacrificing artistic and curatorial judgement in decisions about what to collect in the face of political considerations? How should we decide what we keep and collect?


Andrew Burnett: deputy director, the British Museum
Maurice Davies: deputy director, Museums Association
James Fenton: poet and essayist
Anna Somers Cocks: general editorial director and group newspapers editor, Umberto Allemandi & Co.

events archive