Row over Rennie 'indigestible' texts

May 17, 1996

An exhibition on the artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh was nearly abandoned after a row between academics in Glasgow and an art journalist. The threat was only lifted following assurances that the exhibition will use descriptive texts approved by a Glasgow University expert.

The university and Glasgow School of Art are contributing more than half of the material in the exhibition, which opens in Glasgow later this month before moving to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles in the autumn.

But the two institutions threatened to withhold their exhibits after discovering that the city's museums director, Julian Spalding, had commissioned an art journalist to rewrite texts by Pamela Robertson, co-curator of the exhibition and curator of Glasgow University's Mackintosh collection.

Andrew Gibbon Williams, the journalist, has claimed in a letter to the Glasgow Herald that he had converted the "poorly written" texts into "decent English", adding that "exhibitions are for people, not for academic prima donnas".

Both the university and art school saw Mrs Robertson's introductory texts as an integral part of the exhibition. A university spokesman said both institutions were concerned that the exhibition should reflect the academic scholarship in Glasgow which had done so much in recent years to widen the understanding of Mackintosh.

Mr Spalding has now assured the two institutions that Mrs Robertson will have final approval of the texts, along with co-curator Stewart Johnston of New York's Metropolitan Museum, and Glasgow curatorial consultant Roger Billcliffe. "Mr Spalding has given us a guarantee, and we are delighted to accept it," the university spokesman said.

A spokesman for Glasgow School of Art said: "This is not about personalities, but about staging the best possible exhibition. Mr Gibbon Williams is free to express his views, as we are to disagree with him. The University of Glasgow and Glasgow School of Art are committed to working with all those involved to produce a world- class display."

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