The Stories of Materials | Masterpiece Symposium 2021

Masterpiece Symposium | Journeys through the Material World

To open our 2021 online programme 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 February

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?

‘Masterpiece’s ethos is to remove barriers to approaching works of art,’ says Philip Hewat- Jaboor, Chairman of the Fair. ‘Our talks and education programme offers the opportunity to everyone, particularly those new to collecting, to learn about all kinds of objects from antiquity to the present day – and from all corners of the globe. This Symposium and our planned series of panel discussions and podcasts aims to explore the wonderful world of art by focusing on the materials from which works of art are made – a journey of discovery that is one of the most rewarding ways to appreciate objects.’

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

View more details on the second day of the Symposium here
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