Come to our exhibition! Spear’s will be showing photos which examine the meeting of art and philanthropy on 12 February, and you’re invited.
The Cloister Cafe, Great St Barts
A while ago, Spear’s commissioned photographer Stuart Leech to take pictures of London’s museums and galleries and the way they commemorate their donors.
The result was a beautiful and thoughtful portfolio, which we published in the magazine and, in association with the Charities Aid Foundation, are now pleased to present in an exhibition for one night only.
There are a number of spaces for Spear’s readers, so email email@example.com to request yours.
Pictured below: A chair in the cinema at the Institute of Contemporary Art; the plaque reads: ‘The seat – donated by Terry Gilliam; the view – somebody else’s fault’
About The Money Shot
Charities frequently produce brochures, reports and websites with visual evidence of the effects of philanthropy — broadly-smiling children kicking a football, a green field in Africa, cheery Chelsea Pensioners — but the more monumental, more permanent evidence of giving is often ignored. Think how often you go into a theatre, gallery or museum and breeze past the donor boards or pay no attention to the names above the lintel.
This exhibition is not meant to wag a disapproving finger, but rather to explore what these ways of recording beneficence say about Britain’s culture of philanthropy.
The first thing that struck me on looking at Stuart’s striking photos, taken over the course of one day and one evening, was the monumentality of many of the donor boards: the solemn stone-carved names at the National Gallery suggest a war memorial, perhaps evoking a peaceable equivalence of service to your country. The list on the donor board has become a staple of public recognition, although some now divide the names into bands of generosity, a stratification which encourages and undermines at the same time.
Several museums and galleries have put donor boards in surprising places: in one museum, the board is rather close to the WC. Putting them in the gift shop is mercantile but at least ensures eyeballs.
Pictured below: The Yves Saint Laurent Room at the National Gallery, London
One noteworthy feature of these donor boards is which names recur. Future historians by studying them could quickly assemble a network of the twenty- and twenty-first-century generous: Clore, Weston, Sackler, Sainsbury, Djanogly, Fairbairn, Wohl, Wellcome, Warburg, Getty, Leverhulme and several others. Should we celebrate the intensive generosity of these few families and trusts or be worried that so much of our cultural life depends on such few people? Both, I would say.
The boards do, of course, carry many more names and the variety of donors is heartening, reflecting the percolation of the philanthropic ideal (and necessity) throughout society. Philanthropy in this way has acquired a fashionable patina, which is no bad thing, although like most fashions, there is the danger it might be replaced. What we need to do is ensure it endures — the question is how.
Buildings have always been named after their benefactors and this is still the ultimate reward for a large donation, the naming rights. Consider the New Bodleian Library in Oxford, which will become the Weston Library (that name again) in 2014, or the Cottesloe Auditorium at the National Theatre which will become the Dorfman. Single rooms can be renamed too: there is a sweet pairing at the National Gallery with the Yves Saint Laurent Room (pictured above) and the Pierre Bergé Room.
There is so much of interest encoded in Stuart’s beautiful, thoughtful photographs that Spear’s and CAF are presenting them in this exhibition. Josh Spero, Editor