By using this website you agree to our Cookie policy

April 2019, No. 1393 – Vol 161

The Burlington Magazine website

Editorial

The Burlington Magazine website

Readers who have recently visited our website (www.burlington.org.uk) will have noticed that it has undergone a complete redesign. As well as looking refreshed, it is now easier to navigate on all platforms, since increasingly users are accessing its content on tablets and smartphones. Such variety was hardly conceived of when the website last underwent a major redesign, in 2014. Another reason for the change was the launch last year of Burlington Contemporary, our online journal for contemporary art (www.contemporary.burlington.org.uk). With the redesign of the main website we now have a stylistically coherent online presence.

Almost nothing dates faster than a website. The magazine has been redesigned only twice in the past twenty years, but a website that is not transformed at least every four to five years soon seems as antediluvian as a cuneiform tablet. This speed of change means that it is surprisingly hard to reconstruct the digital past of an organisation, even one as conscious of its history as The Burlington Magazine.1 We launched our first website in the spring of 2000, which sounds quite late, but it was less than seven years after web browsers became widely available and less than two years after the introduction of web-development toolkits, which made website development a commercial reality for small organisations. In its initial form, our website did little more than provide information about the current issue of the magazine and where to buy it. In the following decade we were encouraged to be more ambitious by a major project: the creation of the magazine’s digital index. Instigated in 2005 with a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and completed in 2017 with a grant from the Monument Trust, this comprehensive searchable database of the magazine’s contents since its foundation in 1903 originally existed as a separate website. In 2014 this was integrated with the magazine’s main website, which was given other new functions, from offering access to free content from our archive to online purchasing of subscriptions, magazines and pdfs of articles.

The latest incarnation of the website also has more to offer in terms of function. There is a new section, Academic Noticeboard, which allows users to post announcements about calls for papers and events such as conferences and lectures. Perhaps most welcome of all, especially to readers who regretted the loss of the magazine’s calendar of exhibitions, there is an enlarged ‘What’s On’ section, which incorporates a searchable calendar of exhibitions around the world. As with the Academic Noticeboard, users can submit information to the calendar, by means of an online form.

The magazine’s calendar dated back only to 1980, when it consisted of a single page of listings. Its creation and development have reflected the growth of exhibitions as an inescapable feature of academic art history. When the magazine was founded, loan exhibitions were not frequent and partly as a result were reviewed in considerable depth. In Britain, the exhibitions of most interest to the nascent discipline of art history were staged by the Burlington Fine Arts Club in its premises in Savile Row, London. Drawn largely from British private collections, they included, for example, an exhibition of ancient Greek art, reviewed over nineteen pages by Cecil Smith in 1903.2 Even greater space was devoted to the first large-scale loan exhibitions in London since the nineteenth century, those on the art of individual countries or national schools staged at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, in the 1920s and 1930s. In January 1929, for example, Robert Witt wrote a six-page preview of the exhibition of Dutch art that was about to open, and in its February issue the magazine published a review by Roger Fry which, with its illustrations, extended over thirteen pages. One reason for this depth of coverage was that the age of the academic exhibition catalogue had yet to dawn and even such large events were accompanied only by a list of exhibits: the Magazine’s reviews were therefore doubly important, as a record of the exhibition as well as a critical estimation of it.

By the end of the 1930s the era of the exhibition with international loans was well under way: in his editorial in the January 1946 issue Ellis Waterhouse reported on the fate of works of art lent from British collections that had been trapped in Italian museums by the outbreak of war.3 Given that in Britain the age of the ‘blockbuster’ as a regular feature of museum life is usually dated from 1972, the year of Treasures of Tutankhamun at the British Museum, London, it is striking how quickly the magazine became jaded. In an Editorial in May 1957 Benedict Nicolson wrote that:

The sociologist of the future will gain some insight into the character of this age by undertaking an exhaustive study of our exhibition mania. He will detect, in our ant-like persistence in moving works of art backwards and forwards across Europe, symptoms of distress and unease, attempts to compensate for lack of creative activity, the inflation of culture keeping pace with the inflation of currency, unhappy restlessness masquerading as the need to bring art to those who cannot afford to travel widely.4

The tide was, however, unstoppable, as Nicolson recognised when he returned to the subject twenty years later in a plea for if not fewer exhibitions then at least smaller and more academically focused ones: ‘As with cocktail parties, so with exhibitions: the smaller the better’.5

Our coverage of exhibitions was then restricted to a section dominated by previews and round-ups entitled ‘Current and forthcoming exhibitions’, but perhaps as a result of Nicolson’s retirement from the editorship in 1978 the magazine ceased to fight against fashion. The introduction of the calendar was followed by a reorganisation of the reviews pages, which rapidly expanded to occupy about half of the magazine. They are now accompanied by Burlington Contemporary’s two weekly reviews. Although the 225 reviews we publish annually may sound impressive, a comparison with the hundreds of exhibitions listed at any one time in the calendar on our website reveals that it requires the resources of the internet even to survey what is on offer, whether or not exhibitions are lamented as ‘symptoms of distress and unease’ or celebrated as extraordinary riches.

 

1 The best way to see what a website looked like in the past is to visit the 349 billion web pages preserved in the remarkable ‘wayback machine’, at www.archive.org/web, accessed 20th March 2019.

2 C. Smith: ‘The exhibition of Greek art at the Burlington Fine Arts Club’, THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE 2 (1903), pp.236–55.

3 Editorial: ‘Loan exhibitions in Italy in 1938’, THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE 88 (1946), p.3.

4 Editorial: ‘A plea for fewer exhibitions’, THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE 99 (1957), p.145. 5 Editorial: ‘Too many exhibitions – and usually of the wrong kind’, THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE 119 (1977), pp.171–72.