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Awards season

How strange it was, at the start of November, to be scuttling around museums and galleries in London in an effort to stock up mentally on art once again. At the time of writing, the populations of the UK and much of continental Europe are living in slow motion through lockdown the sequel, with cultural institutions closed until at least the start of December. The UK government’s regulations categorise museums alongside casinos and go-karting tracks as ‘entertainment venues’; perhaps it will have learnt a little more nuance should we reach round three.

I have written regularly this year about the solace of art at a remove, as well as the emotional impact, whether real or assumed, of encountering it as a physical object. Those threads continue in a number of articles in this issue. In the Forum pages, Caroline Campbell and Michael Prodger ask whether the grand concerns and local consolations of Old Master paintings have rendered them more vital to us than ever (see pp. 16–17). Madeleine Schwartz visits an exhibition about authenticity at the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, in which the display encourages visitors to test the evidence of their eyes against the results of technical research (see Diary, pp. 19–20). Visiting the Museo di Palazzo Poggi in Bologna, Christopher Turner discusses the experience of being confronted by its array of meticulously realistic anatomical waxworks (see Letter, pp. 23–24).

Cultural activity has continued in 2020, albeit in challenging circumstances and to an unfamiliar rhythm. This year’s Apollo Award winners and shortlists, published in full in this issue, reflect innovations that have provided much-needed optimism in an otherwise bleak period (see pp. 33–56). We are grateful to the London- and Singapore-based law firm Mishcon de Reya for supporting the Apollo Awards 2020.

Our Personality of the Year is Matthew Burrows, who launched the Artist Support Pledge initiative in March, a simple but effective network through which artists of all stripes have been able to make sales at a time when other income has dried up. At the time of writing, it has generated around £70m for artists,

all through the sale of works priced at no more than £200. The Morgan Library & Museum, our Digital Innovation of the Year for its ‘The Morgan, Connected’ project, has stood out from a crowded field of freshly digital museums for the way in which it has capitalised on existing resources and carefully added new ones, building a sustained relationship with its online audience in the process.

Sustainability and resilience have been much on the mind this year. Two of our winners, Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage (Acquisition of the Year) and the Yemisi Shyllon Museum of Art (YSMA; Museum Opening of the Year), are backed by endowments or funding pledges that bode optimistically for the years ahead. In the spring, the Art Fund’s campaign to save Prospect Cottage for the nation was accomplished with a fluency that belied the darkening clouds gathering overhead. YSMA, meanwhile, is the first university art museum in Nigeria. Its remarkable founding collection of art from West Africa, the majority of which is a gift from the collector Prince Shyllon, promises to place culture centre-stage at the Ibeju-Lekki campus of Pan-Atlantic University; it is to be hoped that the museum will also prove a blueprint for comparable projects elsewhere.

Other Apollo Awards turn back to the world as it was, attesting to principles that must endure as we blink our way out of this crisis. Our Exhibition of the Year is ‘Van Eyck: An Optical Revolution’, which evinced a spirit of collaboration between museums, curators and conservators that will be more necessary that ever in the future. Bilderatlas Mnemosyne – The Original, our Book of the Year, reconstructs Aby Warburg’s great exploration of the lyrical life of images; it is a welcome reminder that scholarship entails feats of imagination as much as those of persistence.

And our Artist of the Year? That award goes to Toyin Ojih Odutola, the NigerianAmerican artist whose extraordinary series of drawings of a fictional ancient civilisation went on display at the Barbican this summer. That fantasy and its flaws helped us to imagine a new world before many of us realised that we would need one. o Thomas Marks, Editor


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