Editor’s Letter, May/June 2016

Editorial Staff Opinion

Glenn Adamson joins us this month as editor at large with an interesting mandate you can read about below. Glenn was most recently director of the Museum of Arts and Design. Before that he was head of research at the V&A, and curator of the Chipstone Foundation.

The Magazine ANTIQUES: In your column you will think through difficult matters that confront the arts just now, beginning with the problem of ivory. What other issues might interest you?

Glenn Adamson: What interests me most about the column is its timeliness. My plan is to keep an eye on the morning paper, and see what objects from the past come to mind. Right now the refugee issue feels urgent, as does the Black Lives Matter campaign. So those may inspire my next two columns. But I’m also keeping an open mind. 

TMA: Is the column meant to be political?

GA: Yes, but not in a partisan sense. My goal is to find a middle way through the oppositional politics of our time. Historical artifacts are multi valent, textured things. When we pay close attention to them, I think we often find reason to question our own deeply held assumptions. It’s a way of grounding antiques in contemporary thinking, and vice versa.

TMA: You have been especially vigorous in addressing the absurd hierarchical schism between so-called “fine” and “decorative” arts. How do you think we are doing on that score?

GA: Not all that well. I will say that contemporary artists have gotten more curious and skilled in their investigations of decorative art—I’m thinking here of people like Josiah McElheny, Theaster Gates, and Allison Smith. But the market and the museum sector are still balkanized. We need to advocate for a more integrated understanding of art, in which the conceptions of “fine” and “decorative” are seen as both overlapping and mutually enlightening.

TMA: Do you worry about the international invisibility of American material of the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries? 

GA: I do. It’s surprising how little pre-­1945 American material you see in European museums and in public collections elsewhere in the world. Part ly this is because of the high valuation of American art in this country, originally for patriotic reasons. That’s made it difficult for museums and collectors from abroad to compete for the objects. So maybe it’s a case of overvaluation and isolationism in tandem.  

TMA: How do you envision your use of social media for the magazine?

GA: In addition to using social media as another platform for content, I am interested in exploring the back catalogue. Antiques has been published since 1922, so there is a great deal of fascinating material to mine. I love the way that today’s social media allows for direct, intuitive access to an archive.

TMA: The word “antiques” seems be out of fashion just now, but don’t you think it is poised for rehabilitation? 

GA: Well, I’ve spent much of my career thinking about “craft,” another word with reputational issues. I used to be frustrated that it was treated as a second­-class category, but over time I came to love that dynamic. It gives you space to operate. When the broader culture disregards something, you know there is good work to be done. Now that craft has become somewhat in vogue, I think the term “antiques,” with its suggestion of historical depth, could well be due for a similar rediscovery. 

We are clearly off to a promising start here.