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PRINT September 1979

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Where the English Draw the Line

WHATEVER THE CLAIMS OF art to universality, the institutions where art is displayed have a clear tendency to exhibit national characteristics. They have, as we perhaps need to be reminded, precise historical origins, and they correspond not to some ideal blueprints but to the particular circumstances of their origins. The categories and divisions that they introduce into the body of art are never neutral. Indeed, the notion of an “art world” that effectively sets its own norms and practices is not a mere paranoid delusion of the outsider: it applies beyond the immediate field of commercial dealings and critical interchange to the very august institutions which might appear to defend the principle of ideal neutrality—to our national galleries and museums of ancient and modern art.

Two recent incidents illustrate, if proof were necessary, the implications of this fact in contemporary England.

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