catallaxy files

catallaxy in technical exile

Politics on display

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The National Gallery of Victoria’s Exiles and Emigrants exhibition, about migration to Australia in the 19th century, is well worth a visit (Sebastian Smee’s review is here). But it is not entirely immune to the politicking that has landed museums in so much trouble (the Australian Museum in Sydney seems to be the latest casualty). For one painting depicting London’s poor, the explanatory material on the wall tells us that it was evidence of a ‘deplorable lack of social services’. ‘Deplorable’ suggests that it is morally outrageous that nothing was done to provide such services, but this seems to overstate the case considerably. While 19th century Britain was wealthy by the world standards of the time, it was very poor by our standards. According to Angus Maddison’s world historical economic statistics GDP per capita in Britain in 1820 was equivalent to about $1700 1990 dollars and in 1870 to about $3200. Clearly the economic base to provide extensive social services did not exist. This example is a quibble on my part, but the curatorial propensity to lecture is annoying. The art was speaking for itself, far more powerfully than any political polemic ever could.

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Written by Admin

January 15, 2006 at 8:39 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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