The Tate Triennial exhibition at Tate Britain, which was exhibited from 26 February to 26 May 2003, featured one work which stirred tremendous controversy. Sculptor and installation artist Cornelia Parker wrapped Auguste Rodin’s The Kiss — which had been specially moved from its normal installation at the Tate Modern — in a mile of string, calling her resulting work The Distance (a Kiss with string attached). Criticism immediately followed, both for the displacement, and what many viewed as a mistreatment, of the sculpture. As the Tate’s Board of Trustees met in July of 2004 to discuss their decision, ArtWatch UK’s Director Michael Daley submitted the following letter to the chairman of that board:
9th July 2004
Paul Myners CBE
The Board of Trustees
London SW1P 4RG
I write concerning Tate Britain’s decision to permit Cornelia Parker to incorporate Rodin’s “The Kiss” as a prop in a work of her own.
Dr Deuchar has informed us that the Tate’s Board of Trustees is to consider the ramifications of her act later this month and that he believes it might be helpful for the Board to be made aware of our views.
We welcome the decision to consider the policy implications of this unprecedented use – or, as we see it, grave misuse – of a work of art in the Tate’s historical collection. As I believe you are already aware, the incident has provoked strong criticisms within the art world. It has served to confirm the suspicion of many artists that their field is governed by unrepresentative, partisan administrators who, in furtherance of their avant gardist interests and taste, treat history and historical collections with contempt and (now) show themselves prepared even to trample on the moral rights of artists entrusted to their care.
We feel that this case raises questions that go to the heart of museum policy and institutional accountability and hope that the appended statement of our particular objections and concerns might be of assistance to your Board in its deliberations.
With thanks for the consideration you are giving to, this matter,
cc Dr Stephen Deuchar
Objections to and questions arising from Tate Britain’s abuse of Rodin’s sculpture “The Kiss”, submitted by ArtWatch UK to the Tate Board of Trustees, July 9th 2004
On April 8th 2004, Paul Myners, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery held (in a letter to Christopher Fiddes) that the curatorial staff of Tate Britain had acted “appropriately” when permitting Cornelia Parker to incorporate Rodin’s “The Kiss” within a work of her own.
We reject this claim. (See below.)
On March 4th 2004, Mr Myners’ predecessor, David Verey, had held that the exercise was undertaken in a “responsible” fashion and that authority for the curators’ decision was contained within the Gallery’s “collecting and display remits”, as set out (it was implied) under the terms of the Museums and Galleries Act, 1992.
We reject the former claim (see below) and have challenged the latter.
On March 16th, ArtWatch UK’s director, Michael Daley, asked Mr Verey for the identification of any part or parts of the 1992 Act that might be taken to authorise the subsuming of a work in the Gallery’s historical collection within an assemblage/display/contraption put together by a contemporary artist.
No reply was forthcoming on this point.
We are advised that the 1992 Act provides no authority for making such use of a work in the collection and would therefore ask the Board for a clarification of its position on the matter.