Landform by Charles Jencks won the third annual £100,000 Gulbenkian Prize for Museum of the Year. © Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh.
Across the board, from archaeology to art, 2004 has been an exciting and eventful year for British cultural heritage.
The year saw some spectacular archaeological finds, blockbuster exhibitions and some important anniversaries. But what do personalities from the sector think of the past year?
We canvassed the opinion of some big names from the world of arts, heritage and museums, beginning with the UK's Arts Minister, to find out their highlights of 2004.
Arts Minister Estelle Morris launches Museums and Galleries Month 2004 at the Hayward Gallery, London. © 24 Hour Museum
Estelle Morris, Arts Minister
"This year has been a great one for the arts and it has been a privilege for me to be Arts Minister and get the opportunity to enjoy so much of it first hand. Perhaps it’s all those years I spent as a teacher, but I love exhibitions that explain how things came about, and that get under the skin of their subject."
"Art in the Making: Degas at the National Gallery was one such. Like most people, I suspect, I had no idea just how much meticulous preparation went into his compositions, and how many different variations he would experiment with before settling on a final one. It was a revelation and, like all the best exhibitions, sent me home afterwards with a different – and fuller – view of the artist."
"Edward Hopper at Tate Modern was great for a different reason. Hopper reminds me of one of my other favourite painters, LS Lowry. Both are iconic in the sense that much of their work conjures up a particular place at a particular time in history. Both focus on people caught in everyday situations and both are long on atmosphere, and short on sentimentality."
Edward Hopper, Office at Night 1940. Oil on canvas. 56.4 x 63.8 cm. Courtesy of Collection Walker Arts Centre, Minneapolis. Gift of the T.B. Walker Foundation, Gilbert M. Walker Fund 1948
"One of the things that makes Hopper important for me, however, is the cinematic quality to the setting of his work. American cinema has had a colossal effect on the development of world culture and itself owes a huge debt to this most distinctive painter."
"What made Tate’s exhibition so strong was the sheer range of work on show, beautifully arranged too, with plenty of space to absorb each work. Tate Modern remains a truly superb setting for enjoying modern art."
Charles Thomson and model 'Emily' pose in front of Paul Harvey's 'Punk Victorian' at the opening of the Stuckist Liverpool Biennial Show. Photo: Richard Moss. © 24 Hour Museum
Charles Thomson, artist and founding member of the Stuckists
Charles Thomson certainly wouldn’t number the Turner Prize among his highlights — so did he think the right man had won this year?
"No, it should have been one of the Stuckists. It is an outmoded art form now. There’s no difference between the winner and the Sealed Knot Society who also do recreations of historical events."
Charles’ favourite exhibition of last year was the Stuckist’s Punk Victorian at the Walker, the group’s first show at a national gallery.
The Stuckists assemble for their group portrait at the Walker during Liverpool Biennial in 2004. Picture by Richard Moss © 24 Hour Museum.
"It is in complete contrast to the Turner Prize because it is a show that has aroused tremendous public enthusiasm. It has been very successful and we’ve had a very good response, not only from adults but all the way down to primary school children."
"I think it is the first time in a long time when art is actually accessible as well as meaningful. It’s a feelgood show — like human life has at last come out of the closet."
The Stuckist’s Punk Victorian is on show at the Walker and Lady Lever Art Galleries in Liverpool until February 20 2005.
Susan Daniel McElroy — something of a tipster.
Susan Daniel McElroy, Director, Tate St Ives
In contrast to Charles Thompson, Susan is a fan of the Turner Prize. This year’s winner, Jeremy Deller and last year’s winner, Grayson Perry, are recent visitors to Tate St Ives.
"It was really thrilling for me to have Grayson Perry and Jeremy Deller come to talk in our 'Is This Modern Art?' series and see the audience absolutely jammed to the gills in the gallery, on the edges of their seats."
Jeremy Deller. Bats emerging from a cave 2003. Production photograph from Memory Bucket. Courtesy the artist.
Both artists presented their lectures about two months before the Turner winners were announced and booked well before they had been shortlisted — making Susan something of a tipster.
"You know it is just picking up on the zeitgeist and it just proves you can do it from afar. My trick is to do it for next year as well. That’s what my chairman has challenged me with."
Her favourite exhibition last year was the summer show at Tate St Ives. "It was the second highest recorded level of visitors in eleven years, beaten only by Barbara Hepworth."
Three Forms, Cube, Sphere, Pyramid, 2003/4 by David Nash. Photo David Prudames © 24 Hour Museum
"The conceptual underpinning of the season was romanticism and paring back.” Susan particularly liked Pyramid, Sphere and Cube by David Nash and Mariele Neudecker’s Over and Over, Again and Again.
"I was really struck by the response of children to our summer show. When we put the artists together I had an idea that children might like it because of that utopian sense of a mysterious world. It was like Tom’s secret garden, through the door into the magic kingdom."
Editor Jane Morris couldn't imagine life without the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Jane Morris, Editor Museums Journal
As editor of the Museums Journal, Jane is well placed to give an overview of the best that museums had to offer in the last year. So what really struck her?
"My favourite shows were Donald Judd at the Tate, Mike Nelson's Triple Bluff Canyon at Modern Art Oxford and With Hidden Noise at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds."
Donald Judd, Untitled, 1989-90. Enamelled aluminium and galvanised iron. Courtesy Kunstammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, Düsseldorf.
"The biggest news stories for us were the Momart fire, the 10 year celebrations of the Heritage Lottery Fund (hard to imagine life without it) and the seizing of the Aboriginal barks, currently held by Kew and the British Museum, by an Aboriginal group in Australia. That battle is still ongoing."
Everyone That I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995 by Tracey Emin, one of the works destroyed by the Momart fire. Courtesy of the Saatchi Gallery, London.
"I think the most influential thing will be the consensus building up around the MA's collections report — it is about time that collections and collecting were put back on the agenda."
"Having said that, the spending announcement on December 13 was very disappointing for both regional and national museums, and no doubt for collecting for the future."
Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Roger Bland, Head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme
Roger Bland picked the discovery of two Viking brooches by metal detectorist, Peter Adams, as his favourite story this year.
"The two Viking age copper brooches were reported by a detectorist to our local finds liaison officer who recognised them as being really rare and beautiful objects. She was able to get funding from English Heritage for an excavation of the site that revealed six Viking age graves and they’re incredibly rare."
The two brooches that led to one of the most significant Viking burials to be found in recent years. Courtesy Portable Antiquities Scheme.
"The objects themselves are very interesting and lovely objects and very unusual but what made it a really good story was the subsequent work that was done on the site — what the excavation revealed."
"This is only the second Viking age burial site that’s ever been discovered in this country. That’s why it’s such a nice story and it shows how the reporting of a find can lead to major discovery."
CBA President, renowned archaeologist, author and TV presenter, Dr Francis Pryor.
Dr Francis Pryor, archaeologist, writer and TV presenter
If it’s archaeology you’re interested in then Dr Francis Pryor, presenter of Channel 4's Britain BC and Britain AD, is your man. He has chosen a couple of fantastic finds as his highlights of 2004.
"I like both those discoveries because they challenge our mental pictures of life in the past."
"The first is a pair of bronze decorated Iron Age shears found in Essex. The wonderful Celtic art decoration to my mind shows that these objects had nothing to do with sheep shearing but everything to do with trimming hair and trimming beards."
The shears were discovered in 2002 during excavation of a pipeline in northwest Essex. © Essex Archaeology
"That’s terrific news not just because they were some of the earliest barbers' shears but because of what it tells you about people’s appearance."
"One of the things that really annoys me about televised reconstructions of the past is that they always make people look like they were alcoholic tramps. It’s so patronising to people in the past — they cared about their appearance as much as we did."
The shears are currently with Network Archaeology for further analysis but they should return to permanent display at Saffron Walden Museum sometime in 2005.
Francis’ second choice is what is known as the Coventry Doom. Originally discovered beneath limewash above the Chancel Arch at Coventry’s Holy Trinity Church in 1831, the doom (meaning a painting that depicts the image of judgement, blessing and damnation described in Matthew 25) dates back to the early 1400s.
The Coventry Doom under restoration. Picture courtesy Holy Trinity Church, Coventry
"Why I love this discovery is that it shows that actually, life in medieval times was amazingly colourful and that places like great churches and great cathedrals would have been remarkably like nightspots today."
"It would’ve been a totally mind-blowing experience when you went into these places, both terrifying and uplifting. To our eyes today they would have appeared gaudy because we’ve got used to our churches looking whitewashed and drab."
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive English Heritage. © English Heritage
Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage
"Save Our Streets, the English Heritage campaign to rid the streets of the clutter of unnecessary signs, poles, barriers, bollards, guard rails, obtrusive road markings and ugly street furniture, was one of the high points of our year."
"Our Commissioner, Bill Bryson, fronted the campaign for us as he cares passionately about how England presents itself and wants to see restored the dignity and character for which our historic streets were once world-famous."
Bill Bryson, championing the Save our Streets action plan for English Heritage, attended the launch at Great Portland Street, central London. Photo by Michael Walter/Troika.
"Save Our Streets has hit a massive chord with the public, MPs and local councillors. Councils where we pointed up poor streets are agreeing that action needs to be taken."
"We were honoured that the Women’s Institute agreed to be our campaign partners and their members are still busy doing audits of street clutter up and down the country. I am delighted to say that owing to popular demand, we have had to reprint our Save Our Streets booklet and audit forms."
Bamber Gascoigne, chairman of the 2003 Gulbenkian Prize judges, announces the winner with Lady Cobham, Chair, Museum Prize.
Bamber Gasciogne, author and broadcaster
Bamber Gascoigne has written and presented many historical documentaries on television. He has been a trustee of both the National Gallery and the Tate Gallery and in 2003 he chaired the judging panel for the first Gulbenkian Prize. So what are his top picks from the past year?
"There are three things that have particularly delighted me: Ancient Art to Post-Impressionism — the extraordinary collection at the Royal Academy, on loan from Copenhagen — particularly for the portrait busts of many members of the same Roman family, giving a much more intimate glimpse of people in ancient Rome than you can normally get."
"Encounters — the exhibition at the V&A about the cultural interaction in past centuries between Europe and the East, full of beautiful objects and wonderful surprises (in the way things are put side by side or, in the analogy of the exhibition's title, encounter each other). And those two elements, beauty and surprise, are the ingredients of any really good exhibition."
"Collect — an exhibition of items from the leading craft galleries in Europe, held first in 2004 at the V&A and now to be an annual event each January. It was inspiring to see what lovely and skilful things are being made all over the place in all the different crafts. Well worth the visit next month (though pricy, to judge by last year's show)."