The Art History Newsletter

‘The Warburg Institute is fighting for its life’

by | 28 July 2010 | Uncategorized

The Art Newspaper editor Anna Somers Cocks writes:

[In 1944 London University agreed to] “maintain and preserve the Warburg Library in perpetuity, provide it with a suitable building near the university centre and keep it adequately equipped and staffed” … So why is the Warburg fighting for its life against London University? … There are now fears that the University plans to move the Warburg’s library from its building in Woburn Square and put it with its own library in its headquarters. In 2007 it squeezed the Warburg by raising its space charge by £500,000, which eats up half the Institute’s £1.3m annual grant so that it now has an annual deficit of half a million … The University is also trying to curtail the Warburg’s independence after “converging” the administration of the Warburg library into London Research Library Services, which will be appointing the Warburg’s next librarian, who will no longer be a scholar-librarian, as has been the case from Fritz Saxl onwards. There is no money to appoint a successor to the head of the Warburg’s photographic archive, the essential complement to the books in the integrated Warburgian approach to ideas … All this suggests that the University does not acknowledge its obligations under the 1944 trust deed, but what is almost more serious is that in its bureaucratic way the University seems to have lost sight of the human reality of what makes a place of learning and intellectual creativity. Administrative synergies will not do it; money and a fine building do not necessarily do it, as the Getty Research Institute has shown. Despite all its facilities, that has never stirred people’s minds much or aroused affection. The Warburg, on the other hand, attracts scholars from all over the world and from many fields. They congregate around its books, each floor with its own theme: basement and first floor, Image; second floor, Word; third floor, Orientation; fourth floor, Action. Action, for example, embraces social history, political history, magic and science, while Orientation is western and eastern religion and philosophy. Ideas seem very accessible, almost tangible here.

1 Comment

  1. Ben said on 29 Jul 2010 at 5:50 pm:

    The description of the idiosyncratic arrangement of the books by theme reminds me somehow of the Barnes Foundation’s eccentric curatorial vision — more evidence for the unique value of individual judgment.

    Hypothesis: institutions and collections created by quirky millionaires are more interesting and valuable than equally well-funded institutions created by armies of sober nonprofit employees.