In response to:
The Fall of a Great Museum from the April 27, 1989 issue
To the Editors:
Sir John Pope-Hennessy in “The Fall of a Great Museum” [NYR, April 27] writes: “The first task of the Victoria and Albert Museum, therefore, is to recapture the visitors it once had.” Should not the first task be to accept its aim when it was founded which was, as he notes, “to be of use to manufacturers and artisans”? That is where the V and A serves as guide.
At least the great museum is a big step ahead of art museums in this country in that it still displays its great collection of casts. American art museums destroyed theirs—the Chicago Art Institute did so, I believe, in the 1950s—or, as in the case of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, has them in storage in a highway viaduct with a few of the better known on loan to the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadow Park.
Drawing the cast, it was called “Drawing the antique” in the old days, was and remains the best grounding for the artist and the artisan. For progress in the true sense the V and A should make a determined effort to have apprentices in the arts in its halls, with visitors not interrupting the sketchers. Art museums this side of the Atlantic could, without fear of derision, imitate the policy and, in this way, help train the artist and the artisan.
Henry Hope Reed
President, Classical America
New York City
August 17, 1989