The finalists in the competition for the world’s biggest museum prize were announced on Thursday (27 April).
Five contenders are vying for the Art Fund’s UK Museum of the Year, which awards £100,000 annually to an outstanding UK institution, which has shown “exceptional imagination, innovation, and achievement”. The remaining four finalists receive £10,000 each in recognition of their achievements.
This year’s shortlist features:
• The Lapworth Museum of Geology, Birmingham
• The National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art, Newmarket
• Sir John Soane’s Museum, London
• Tate Modern, London
• The Hepworth Wakefield, Wakefield
In the wake of last year’s contest, which saw London’s Victoria & Albert Museum scoop the top prize commentators are wondering whether the smaller museums on the 2017 shortlist can expect to lose out to Tate Modern.
Art Fund Director, Stephen Deuchar, has said the playing field is a level one and that the winning museum will be selected according to its achievements irrespective of its size. “The judges are not here to argue for any constituency. They’re simply here to say which of these museums they were most impressed and moved and stimulated by”, Deuchar stated.
Deuchar also said that this year’s finalists had each enjoyed a “remarkable year” and demonstrated “a real commitment to innovation and experimentation, offering fresh perspectives and new ways of seeing and understanding their collections”.
The Lapworth Museum reopened in June 2016 following a £2.7 million redevelopment, which created three new galleries and restored its main building to its former 1920s grandeur. Housing 250,000 specimens including dinosaur skeletons, volcanic rocks and trilobites Deuchar quipped that the museum succeeded in making “lumps of rock look sexy and appealing”.”.
First opened by the Queen in November 2016, the National Heritage Centre for Horseracing & Sporting Art is comprised of three attractions: the National Horseracing Museum, the Fred Packard Museum and Galleries of British Sporting Art and a yard for the retraining of retired racehorses. Visitors can also see two of the Queen’s former racehorses on display.
A £7 million restoration of Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, which is housed in the 19th century architect’s former home has returned its interiors to how they would have looked when Soane died. The project also succeeded in increasing the gallery space by 33% and enabling 10% more of Soane’s art and artefact collection to be displayed.
The largest museum on the shortlist, Tate Modern attracted a record number of visitors in 2016 with a display of artworks by Georgia O’Keefe, an exhibition of photographs owned by Sir Elton John and the addition of its £260 million Switch House extension.
Also in the running for the top prize is the Hepworth Wakefield gallery, which celebrated its fifth birthday in 2016 and enjoyed a 21% boost in visitor numbers. The birthday celebrations included the launch of the £30,000 Hepworth Prize for Sculpture awarded to Helen Marten and exhibitions by Martin Parr, Stanley Spencer and Anthea Hamilton.
This year’s judging panel features British Museum director Hartwig Fischer, sculptor Richard Deacon, former deputy mayor for culture at City Hall Munira Mirza and radio DJ and presenter Jo Whiley.
Prior to selecting their top choice from the shortlist the judging panel will cross-examine staff from each of the museums as well as their visitors. The winning institution will be announced on 5 July 2017 at a ceremony at the British Museum.