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A Live Sculpt-In Protests the V&A’s "No Sketching" Restriction

Clay-equipped protesters take action against the Botticelli exhibit's strict policy.
Clay modelling in protest of the V&A’s no sketching policy within its Botticelli exhibit. Image: Disobedient Films, CCBYND

Artists and activists today occupied the Botticelli exhibit at the V&A, intervening the London museum’s recent decision to ban sketching in the temporary show. With "loan agreement policies" given as explanation for the restrictions on pencils and paper, approximately 20 opponents to the regulation sat throughout the exhibition space modelling clay, in what was an apparent loophole to the expulsion of any illustrative reproductions.


“No photographs is one thing but finding out that I wouldn’t be able to sit here with a sketchbook was shocking,” says Rory Gallagher, an artist working with print and political themes, who was using an artist dummy to recreate one of the Botticelli-inspired paintings that The Creators Project was not allowed to take a photo of.

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Even this photo was a struggle to take. Image: Disobedient Films, CCBYND

Hoping for a positive change, alongside the recovery of creative and educational rights, the Sketch-in group was repeatedly told by a V&A staff member that the exhibit’s loan agreement was at request of the owners of certain pieces. A V&A press officer later told The Creators Project, “As has been the case for some time, there are sometimes specific conditions in loan agreements with lenders to temporary exhibitions, which mean we are not able to allow sketching in those exhibitions, but we work very hard to keep those to an absolute minimum.”


Sketching is also not allowed in another V&A temporary exhibit that’s on now, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear. Image: Disobedient Films, CCBYND

With a £15 price tag, Botticelli Reimagined presents the wide-ranging influences the Italian Renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli had—and still has—in the realms of art, design and beyond. Works like Primavera and The Birth of Venus have become cultural icons, demonstrated through the exhibit's Dolce and Gabbana dress, a Warhol piece, and other modern interpretations of the celebrated artist. Upon entering the exhibit, past the ‘sketching not permitted’ sign, a board reads, “Artists and designers have always been fascinated by the flowing papery and quality of movement in Botticelli’s graceful figures.” A statement that logically suggests a Botticelli is a good thing to sketch.


“All of the images in here influence art students,” says Jeff Sawtell, a working artist who remembers taking students into the V&A for drawing classes in the 60s and 70s, a time when long sheets of canvas and charcoal could be used without issue. “You look through drawing.”

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Another artist works with an artist dummy and clay, inspired by Botticelli. Image: Disobedient Films, CCBYND

The irony that an exhibit, which displays work that has borrowed artistic cues from one painter, does not allow sketchbook interpretations was not lost on the countless visitors who stopped to speak with the group of protestors. The V&A, however, was quick to point out that it does allow sketching in other short-term shows, such as the museum’s current Paul Strand exhibition, along with its “seven miles of permanent galleries.” But other institutions The Creators Project spoke to in London, like The Design Museum and The National Gallery, seem to have an open door policy—or no policy—when it comes to sketching.

While loaned pieces and ticketed exhibitions likely help the V&A’s revenue stream, the educational benefits of sketching a piece of artwork seem irreplaceable, especially as museums like this one have longstanding relationships with art and design schools. Who should own art, becomes another issue.

“The owners of these works are claiming that no one can claim copyright,” says artist Marco Godoy. “I don’t believe in copyright. The industry is trying to control profit over image distribution but with the internet, knowledge has become different. We have to adapt to that. We need to challenge different notions of copyright.”


If Botticelli were alive today, most artists would agree, he’d be using Creative Commons licensing. Until then, #Bottishelfie will have to do.

Botticelli Reimaged runs at the V&A through to July 3, 2016. If you want to see it—without sketchbook—find out more here.

Learn about the Sketch-in by searching #bottishellfie, #vamSketchIn or going to this blog.


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