Cragside House. Image © G Laird and licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Licence

Was the National Trust wrong to cover up objects featuring men at Cragside?

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 14.11.2018
Trust acknowledges exhibition didn’t “work as we intended”
The National Trust is planning to "thoroughly" review a project that saw white covers placed over artworks and artefacts featuring male subjects, after being inundated with complaints from visitors.

The six-week Great Cragside Cover Up project, which closed last week, took place at Cragside House in Northumberland.  

Funded with part of a £114,748 grant from the UK government’s minister for women, the exhibition intended to celebrate the life of Margaret Armstrong, who designed much of the landscape around Cragside. 

The house itself was built in the 1860s by Margaret's husband, the industrialist William Armstong, and is renowned for being the first property in the world to be lit by hydroelectric power. 

The exhibition's curators said the objects were covered up to highlight the lack of representation of women in history and art. However, the exhibition received a backlash from visitors who were annoyed that, having paid an entry fee, they were not able to see the entire collection. Other feedback indicated that people were "baffled" about the project and failed to understand how it showcased female achievement.  

In a statement, the trust said: “We know it is not unusual for some people to dislike or disagree with what they see in contemporary art. This temporary exhibition at Cragside was not about censoring art or being politically correct, but to encourage people to look at the collection differently and stimulate debate.

“We encourage our properties to test new ways of telling their stories and there are countless examples of where that works. Sometimes it doesn’t work as we intended and we accept the feedback we have received.

“As with all exhibitions, we listen to all views in guiding how we plan future activity.”

In an online video about the exhibition, curators Kate Stobbart and Harriet Sutcliffe explained that it had been difficult to find material relating to Margaret Armstrong because most of the estate’s collections centred around her husband. They said the story of Margaret and the other women who worked at the house and in the Armstongs’ factories had been obscured.  

Sutcliffe said on the video: “We thought actually by concealing some of the male objects and artefacts within the house, it might shift the lens slightly so that these women would finally have a space, for three weeks, to shine.”

Was the National Trust wrong to cover up objects featuring men at Cragside? Vote in our poll below.


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15.11.2018, 23:12
It was a good idea (since country house owners have been covering up their furniture and artworks for ages, or rather their servants did on their behalf for different reasons), but it would be useful to know how visitors were informed in advance of their visit and at the start of their visit about what to expect when visiting the property. No one ever looks at all the objects at a National Trust property; there are way too many.

I am just hoping the visitor information and interpretation wasn't typical of that you find at most contemporary art exhibitions - a dull and totally incomprehensible text panel at the start h*ll bent on using as many obscure multi-syllable words as possible in sentences of baffling complexity.