Letter: The masterpieces at Kenwood need full-tme curation

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The Independent Online
Sir: I am not a member of the Council of the Friends of Kenwood and so cannot comment on the reported embargo on contacts between English Heritage and the Friends (report, 29 April). As the person who proposed the motion at the Friends AGM relating to the absence of a full-time curator, however, I can try to clarify the situation.

The preamble to the motion stated that the Friends have the highest opinion of the abilities and devotion of the curators and all the staff associated with Kenwood, and many of English Heritage's achievements at Kenwood to date. This remains the case.

The discussion has, however, become too focused on personalities. The principal point at issue is the downgrading of the role of expertise and scholarship in the running of Kenwood. That English Heritage feels that a collection containing masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer, Frans Hals and Cuyp can be left without a full-time curator but not a full-time administrator/ fund-raiser speaks volumes for that organisation's values.

Until recently scholar-administrators have been in charge of the house. Their activities have been informed by a deep understanding of Kenwood and its broader cultural context as well as by familiarity with administration, financial accountability and the wishes of the public. These attributes have enhanced the quality of Kenwood and, through special exhibitions, its wider contribution to society. The lack of the scholarly dimension on the part of professional administrators who are now in charge entails the risk that the building and its collections could lose their distinctive raisons-d'etre as a result of the over-narrow application of administrative and financial principles.

It is because the present situation in Kenwood endangers both the expertise and authority of the curators and the character of the house and its collections that the Friends, led by George Levy, have expressed their deep concern and foreboding to English Heritage. I cannot believe that English Heritage can really have "talked to [the Friends] about the issues" if none of their representatives attended the Friends' council meeting.

Peter Barber

London N8