Make parliamentary art accessible, says Dugher

31st December 2015

Some 22,000 pieces of art and sculptures from some of Britain's greatest artists are being hidden from public view despite being in public ownership.

That is the verdict of Shadow Culture Secretary Michael Dugher, who said works displayed in the offices of MPs, as well as those in ministries, British embassies overseas and buildings such as 10 Downing Street were being displayed to a "privileged few”.

There are no official estimates of the combined value of the works, with just under 8,500 pieces in Parliament’s collection and another 13,500 in that of the Government.

New public gallery

Mr Dugher has since called for a new free public gallery to be opened in Parliament to showcase works previously inaccessible to the public, with some pieces dating back six centuries.

Pieces featured include works by artists such as William Hogarth, John Constable, Lucian Freud and Andy Warhol.

A small number of works on display at the Houses of Parliament and can be seen by the public, although they first have to take a paid tour.

But Mr Dugher says more needs to be done to enable the public to catch a glimpse of some of the UK's most important artistic treasures.

He told the Daily Telegraph: “There are over 20,000 publicly-owned works of art that are not accessible to the majority of the public - that is not good enough.

“A small part of the Palace of Westminster should be put aside to become a free public art gallery.

“The works from the Parliamentary Art Collection and the Government Art Collection could then be rotated on a regular basis so that all art lovers, academics and art students would be able to access the historic collections.

“All these great works of art are publicly owned so it is only right that everyone, not just a privileged few, should have the opportunity to see and learn from them.”

Artistic treasure or vanity project?

One of the most important pieces to have seen limited public access are Andy Warhol's three screen prints of the Queen, which are now spread in British diplomatic buildings in New York and Washington DC since they were acquired at auctions from Sotheby’s and Christie's in the 2000s.

The use of taxpayers' money for art has been a hot topic in recent years, particularly when it emerged last year that MPs had spent around £250,000 over almost 20 years on what critics described as “vanity portraits” of fellow parliamentarians.

The most striking of these was perhaps the apparently topless painting of Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott, which attracted a price tag of £11,750.

The government has always insisted its investments are to support British art while providing a platform for showcasing the country's finest talent.

However, calls are growing for such pieces to now be made public.

It is just the latest campaign to keep pieces of art available to the public launched by Mr Dugher.

This week saw the Shadow Culture Secretary call for an expansion of the nation's export ban, which detains works of art in the country for six months, keeping them from being sold to foreign collectors as alternate UK-based buyers are sought for the works.

According to The Independent, he is hoping to extend the ban to at least two years.

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