Thursday, June 21, 2012


Exeter museum wins £100,000 award
This year’s Art Fund Prize has been given to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum, which reopened in December after a ten-year, £24m renovation

By Javier Pes. Web only
Published online: 20 June 2012

The £100,000 Art Fund Prize for the UK’s museum of the year for 2012 has been won by a local-authority-run museum and art gallery in the southwest of England. Exeter’s Royal Albert Memorial Museum reopened in December after a ten-year, £24m modernisation of its Venetian-Gothic-style building and the display of the eclectic collection that it has housed since 1868. Funding for its expansion and refurbishment was provided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, among other groups.

Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s secretary of state for culture, Olympics, media and sport, spoke at the awards ceremony held in the Egyptian Galleries of the British Museum on 19 June. He referred to the monumental statue of Ramases II nearby—and in a deadpan way also to his recent grilling by the Leveson inquiry into press standards in connection with News Corp’s bid to buy BSkyB. The pharonic statute was a reminder of the “temporal nature of political power”, he said, and the event one of his more pleasant recent public engagements.

Highlights of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum include works of art such as William Powell Frith’s The Fair Toxophilites, 1872, a fine ethnographic collection that reflects the city’s mercantile history, as well as Gerald, a stuffed bull giraffe donated in 1919. The latter now shares a gallery with Exeter’s memorable, large-scale canvas by Benjamin Robert Haydon, Curtius Leaping into the Gulf, 1842, featuring the Roman hero leaping into a chasm riding an understandably terrified horse.

The Art Fund Prize was first awarded in 2003 and rewards museum excellence, innovation and engagement with their communities. The Art Fund, a charity that has around 90,000-members including Jeremy Hunt, has supported the prize since 2008. An announcement is due by the end of summer about how the charity intends to support the prize in the future, says a spokesman for the fund.

Art galleries were well represented among the runners up. They included the Watts Gallery, Guilford, Surrey, in the southeast of England, the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, and the Hepworth, Wakefield, named after the sculptor Barbara Hepworth and which was designed by the architect David Chipperfield. The Turner Contemporary, Margate, named after the painter J.M.W. Turner, also designed by Chipperfield, made the ten-strong list of contenders but not the shortlisted finalists.

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