Arthur Negus


Pottery Goes

in Croydon

In June 2013 Croydon Council decided to attempt to sell the Reisco Collection - a large volume of ceramic pottery left to Croydon Council by eccentric millionaire and businessman Raymond Riesco. 

In December 1945 Mr. Riesco entered into an agreement with the Corporation under which the latter would buy the Heathfield estate for £83,000. Monks Hill was bought from the Estate immediately and was developed for housing and schools and the remainder was to be bought within 21 years when Riesco wished to sell. From 1958 onwards the gardens were opened to the public each year. In 1958, Riesco made another agreement with the Corporation under which he would make a gift of his collection of Oriental China, complete with 15 showcases and a collection of etchings - mezzotints and watercolours, to the Corporation on the condition that they were not split up.  The Petition to save the collection is here.

It seems the council finances have gone a bit Pear Shaped (by £1bn) so Croydon Council have decided (quietly) to sell 24 pieces of the collection previously on display in the Croydon Clocktower for an estimated £13 million in order to "refurbish the Fairfield Halls".

Of course if you wanted to plug public spending gaps by selling off antiques one might start with the Government Art collection that's never fully on display and only viewed by a few potentates at a time. The Collection receives £551,000 each year from the government, a sum that includes an acquisition budget of £220,000.  After all charity begins at home, doesn't it?  That the logic of spending larges sums of money for paintings to sit in potentates offices unseen by the general public is harder to sell now than it was in the past is obvious from the fact that the government has in recent years been sending parts of its collection out to be displayed as part of other exhibitions.

Even assuming it is good sense to plug public spending gaps with public art (an exhaustable commodity) one might have thought that if one was to do this there are other places where far richer pickings are to be found.  For example
the V&A has 226,747 museum objects on permanent display and 2,011,707 that are ‘Reference Collections’. These collections are not on display to the general public due to lack of space and the fact some of them need special storage conditions. The are kept not just for sentimental reasons but they are of vital importance to the creative industries and pieces can be viewed by appointment. Look at the telly next time you see a period drama or indeed a modern drama or look at any piece of modern furniture, wallpaper or carpet or interior - where do you think the inspiration for the designs comes from?  Design does not evolve in a ....

But, of course, it doesn't end there.  The chances of the council being able to sell the Reisco collection or part of it are very slim due to the very specific legal caveats placed in the will of Mr
Reisco ...However, other authority's artistic heritages have not fared so well.  Above is a painting by Sir John Everett Millais (1829-1896).  Entitled "A Somnambulist" it used to hang in Bolton town museum before the Conservative Council sold it at their 19th century art sale in London on July the 13th for £62,000. It was bought by Delaware Art Museum in the US who were keen to add to their Pre-Raphaelite art collection.  Bolton Council are selling 36 display works from the museum's permanent collection.

They also sold  Robert Gemmell Hutchison's (1855-1936) "Sea Gulls and Sapphire Seas" for £100,000. 

And the rather less expensive "Rivals" by George Smith (1870-1934) for a mere £3000. 
The main council budget is being cut by £60m over the next two years.  Boulton Council had 1,100 oil paintings, watercolours and drawings in Bolton Council's collection, worth a total of £16m. Of these 50 were on display at any one time in town museum.

Under Museum Association rules, such sales are only permitted in exceptional circumstances so money can be raised towards improving the facilities or remaining collection.  So
the council said it had been forced to sell the works in order to fund a new storage facility required at the museum.  What happened to their original storage space is another question but it is interesting that despite offloading work in bulk they have attempted to draw a "moral" line somewhere...

"The works considered were all originally purchased using only Council revenue funds. No works acquired by public donation, bequest or using any form of grant money have been considered."

Croydon Council tries to get around the problem of the bequest of the Reisco Collection by simply denying it with the following set of half truths and lies that are so amusing they deserve to be repeated in full...

... unfortunately they forgot to take the terms of the bequest off their own website before doing this.  Awkward.  Even more awkwardly after asking Mr Riesco's 98 year old daughter if she thought it was okay to sell the collection they then found that his grand daughter has strangely signed the petition against the sale. 

But more disturbingly the reply from Cllr Pollard reveals a deeper answer to why he and other Councillors may not like about the collection - its lack of fungibility.  Art is not a fungible commodity - collectors seldom swap one piece for another.  For this reason the sale is put in terms of being needed in order to restore the Fairfield Halls. 

This gives the impression that the art is being turned from one solid physical commodity into another physical commodity - from ceramics into cement.  However, the reality is that as soon as the ceramics become money ...

...then they become fungible.

That is to say the council can say that the money is "going to the Fairfield halls" and give the impression it is ringfenced in some way but the point of money is that every £5 note can be swapped with any equivalent £5 note - this concept is called fungibility. 

Lower the long term budget of the Fairfield Halls or stop investing in it ahead of time and you can create the budget shortfall to fill giving the impression that the money is not fungible.  But it is money and all money is fungible.  So in short - this is bollocks. 
Previous sales of parts of the collection were not such a legal problem despite the fact of the bequest because the collection was not on display in a Museum but in Riesco's house and later the Fairfield Halls... that it's ironically being sold to "save".

Simon Letts Labour plan in Southampton involves selling off a Rodin Sculpture and a horce racing oil painting by Sir Alfred Munnings ... build a museum to the Titanic including climb on replicas of parts of the liner...

...while one may question Cllr Letts taste he is at least not selling something and intending to get nothing for it - although the Museums Association said "The key requirement that they have not met at this time is that all other funding sources should be explored and any sale should be a last resort."  The Art Fund who collect donations to buy pieces of art for the general public, to preserve pieces of art for future generations and to prevent pieces of historically significant art being lost to the nation said "
Whilst Southampton’s plans to enhance its cultural provision are welcome, The Art Fund believes that raising the funds in part by selling important artworks from its Gallery sets a dangerous precedent, effectively sanctioning the disposal of art from publicly-owned collections to support other areas of public sector provision. We urge the Council to explore all other avenues before selling any of its permanent collection to raise funds. "  Mind you various administrators of Southampton have been trying to flog off its art since 2009.

In 2006, Bury Council raised £1.4m by selling LS Lowry's "A Riverbank" to plug a budget shortfall. They were thrown out of the Museums Association.

Boulton's plan was to flog its old art  such as stuff by
Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) and William Powell Frith (1819-1909) and stock up on cheap modern stuff to fill the shorfall.

Back in 2010 Samantha Glasswell, chair of the Group of Small Local Authority Museums (GoSLAM), said many small museums believe local authorities might not feel they have a choice when prioritising their budgets. She said: “Trust is not really the issue... We’ve got to be realistic that they have to make difficult decisions.  We’ve really got to be making the case that collections are value for money.”  How times change in a few short years.

Leicestershire County Council has sold more than 300 works at auction since last November in the hope of raising £170,000.  Mostly modern stuff including three paintings by Paul Feiler (b.1918), which sold for a combined £40,000, and a picture by Indian artist Avinash Chandra (1931-1991) which realised £16,000. The Council is cutting £79m from its budget over the next four years from 2010.  The irony free zone that is David Sprason, the county council's cabinet member for Adults and Communities, said:

"Like the rest of the country, we are experiencing a tough economic climate at present and are continuing to investigate different ways in which we can save money.
  The council is only disposing of items of artwork that have been identified as surplus to requirements by schools. The money realised from these sales will go directly towards supporting Leicestershire's arts and heritage service."

Exactly what the Leicestershire County Council "heritage service" will leave to be inherited remains to be seen (or unseen).

There's also the sordid issue of Lottery Money.  As the National Lottery was controversial with certain non-conformist and other religious groups who dislike the concept of state sponsored gambling Tony Blair decided that the cash from lottery tickets would be spent only in special areas ringfenced ... the government as "good causes". 

This enabled him and Gordon Brown to cut the amount of direct government spending on the arts and charity raised through general taxation during a previous period of government spending cuts.

The income raised for the Good Causes from ticket sales is paid by Camelot into the National Lottery Distribution Fund and then allocated to the distribution bodies according to a formula set by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. In the year to 31 March 2013, the money Camelot delivered for the Good Causes was allocated as follows:

    Health, Education, Environment and Charitable Causes – 40%
    Sport – 20%
    Arts – 20%
    Heritage – 20%.

A lot of the places this art is displayed were actually funded by the National Lottery so retaining the buildings while selling everything in them may be a breach of trust?  Will the Lottery ask for a refund.  For example despite Gavin Barwell's spokesman claiming the exact opposite...

... the Croydon Museum was originally opened in 1995 as Lifetimes, the galleries were completely re-developed with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund between 2004 and 2006. The award-winning galleries, designed by architects FAT, re-opened in September 2006.  What's the point in having the gallaries with nothing in them?

Of course if you're afraid you'll get into trouble selling Museum Art you can always flog anything that's not actually in a museum.  For example any Henry Moore sculptures that you've got lying about your local housing estates....

Old Flo

... that he sold you for much less than the market price as a personal bequest.  Word of warning though - do try to make sure your actually own it.  Tower Hamlets think they own it ...Bromley thinks it owns it ...erm... if you want to look at some more Henry Moores in the meantime try Henry Moore's fanclub here who write in asking for a plug.

And of course another way of getting round the Museums Assocations' rules is simply to close a museum outright.  John Hurt (who's previous back catalog is about to be completely forgotten as he has just been a form of Doctor Who) 's twitter feed is full of moans about closing museums and pleadings for us all to sign petitons

Still I suppose we've still got the Sustrans park bench portaits ...?  Seem the government is still spending money on some art while it is selling art... even if this is only because it is propaganda...

To the bench statue

Anyway ...despite all the above never let it be said that Pear Shaped only promotes a left wing perspective of the world - here are a collection of vapid arguments from philistines and the ignant that we have collected in the interests of putting over the ignant opinion of why we should say bollocks to all this culture stuff and just cash in to lower our Council Tax

Photo Credits

Everything on this page is stolen from somewhere