Masterpiece Symposium: Journeys through the Material World

February 3-4, 2021

Masterpiece London is delighted to host a programme of debate and discussion co-organised by the Fair and Thomas Marks, editor of Apollo, exploring the stories and stature of materials that have historically been transformed into works of art. With the aim of encouraging constructive conversation and the exchange of ideas and knowledge, this event is open to everyone, from museum professionals and members of the art and antiques trade to the wider public.

Date: Wednesday, 3 & Thursday, 4 February
Time: 5 – 6.30pm GMT
Register here

Over the past year, many of us have taken solace in imaginative journeys to museums and in our mental images of the great objects and collections we prize. But what will the encounter with art, and particularly its material qualities, mean to us when we’re able to spend more time in front of it again? Will materials, surfaces, textures have a refreshed relevance? Will we bring new ideas to them, following months of limited access? Or will they suggest new things to us?

The Masterpiece Symposium will challenge assumptions that materials are somehow inert – and particularly once they have been crafted into works of art and put on display – by exploring the stories that they incubate or that have historically been attached to them: from how their significance has been translated as they cross between cultures to how they have taken on real or imaginary meanings. It will explore how artworks have been categorised, displayed and marketed according to their material character. How central should the discussion of materials be to the display and interpretation of art moving forwards?

Day 1 – Schedule

5pm GMT | Introduction by Philip Hewat-Jaboor, Chairman of the Fair & Thomas Marks, Editor of Apollo

5.05 – 6pm GMT | Panel Discussion: The Stories of Materials
Materials tell stories. Sometimes these are associations that different cultures have assigned to them – linking their power and potential to mythological narratives or types of belief, or assigning them particular values because of their rarity or appearance. Other stories have become more indistinct over time, or perhaps were seldom told: of the historical trade in materials, whether along the Silk Road or through the global silver trade, or of the people involved in the extraction or exchange of materials, or who endured the exploitation of resources by colonising powers. This panel will explore: how stories are encapsulated in materials and how they change as they cross between cultures and periods; how far those stories have been or remain to be told; how they might shed new light on objects that are prized today; the place of such knowledge in museums and for the art market today; and the role of art historians in retelling material stories.

Thomas Marks | Editor of Apollo

Adriano Aynonimo | Senior Lecturer in Art History, University of Buckingham
Sarah M. Guérin | Assistant Professor of Medieval Art at the University of Pennsylvania
Amin Jaffer | Senior Curator, the Al Thani Collection
Susie Nash | Deborah Loeb Brice Professor of Renaissance Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art, London

6 – 6.25pm GMT | Break-out Session: Material Knowledge
All symposium participants will be split into small discussion groups. In this session, they will be invited to continue the conversation about why knowledge of materials can and should still be integral to how we think about art – and why this might be more urgent than ever as we strive to understand objects in global and local contexts.

Day 2 – Schedule

5 – 5.55pm GMT | Panel Discussion: Materials in the Museum
Museums often group objects into material categories (metalwork, silver, glass, ceramics) as well as others that reflect how artists have used them (painting, sculpture) or alternatively by period or region. What has been gained by separating out different materials and what gets overlooked? This panel discussion will explore how materials have been understood and displayed in museums, including: historical and recent methods of display; exhibitions dedicated to specific materials; how best to display the properties of materials, whether real or imagined, and how to explain/interpret the skill that artists have brought to them; how far handling materials can be part of the museum experience; and how far new technologies can help with better public understanding of materials.

Thomas Marks | Editor of Apollo

Christopher Maxwell | Curator of Early Modern Glass at the Corning Museum of Glass
Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth | 17th and 18th Century Curator of Ceramics & Glass at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Dora Thornton | Curator of Antique and Contemporary Silver, Modern Jewellery, and Art Medals at the Goldsmiths’ Company, London
Charlotte Vignon | Director of the Musée national de céramique, Sèvres

5.55 – 6.25pm GMT | Break-out Session: Collaborative Materials
All symposium participants will be split into small discussion groups. In this session, they will be invited to discuss how museums, academics and the art market can work together to build a better understanding of materials, and how such knowledge can be communicated to a wide public. What practical steps would further public engagement with the materials of art?

6.25pm GMT | Closing Remarks: Philip Hewat-Jaboor

Click here to register.