Save the library!

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    It seems obvious that the Lenkiewicz Foundation will inherit little, if anything, from Robert’s estate. But in some ways, a scenario in which the Foundation does now inherit a measurable residue from the estate could be their undoing. What would be the use of a hodgepodge of mediocre paintings and low-value books? Having to take possession of and store 20,000 books and insure a hundred unshowable daubs might be an expensive headache.

    Nevertheless, I think it is worth debating what to do in this case. I tend to the view that an arbitrary collection of paintings the auctioneer didn’t want is neither here nor there. If the Foundation wishes to exhibit the artist’s work in the future then loans from private collectors seems a more sensible approach. The library of modern books (stripped of the high-value antiquarian collection, of course) isn’t arbitrary, and once it is dispersed it is lost forever.

    Anyone who has ever lugged a box full of unwanted books to a second-hand book dealer will agree with my guess that if the modern library is sold off to the book trade it will fetch very little — maybe as little as £1 a book. This raises the possibility that even if they don’t pass to the Foundation by right, the LF could raise enough money to purchase a meaningful proportion of them, if not all. The obvious candidates are the books on art and art history and the philosophy library; though others may be better placed to judge what to preserve. The point is to maintain some sense of the intellectual influences on the artist.

    I would hope that academic institutions in the city have been sounded out about preserving sections of the modern library in their own stacks. Because of the overheads of storing so many books, the Foundation may have to investigate the idea of passing sections over to city libraries, free of charge but with iron-clad caveats about preserving them intact for posterity. It will be better than nothing if Robert’s philosophy books reside in Marjons’ library and the art books are added to the University’s returning art department. Assuming contemporary art students read any art history, of course. Even the Literature section might appeal to Plymouth City Library, provided it leans heavily toward large-print Catherine Cookson.

    If the books do get auctioned off and the LF just can’t raise enough to buy them, I hope it can use its influence and media access to campaign for academic institutions in the city to stump up their own cash to grab such a wonderful bibliographic asset at what is sure to be a low price. Headlines like “Philistine college has no use for books” should play well. The Foundation should make available an official ex-libris bookplate.

    I know the Foundation has reluctantly authorized the sale of the valuable antiquarian books in an effort to postpone the sale of certain key paintings. This must have been a difficult choice since it breaches Robert’s expressed preference that books should be sold last. There’s no point commenting on this since the decision probably only offered temporary respite to the paintings and the antiquarian books were always under threat anyway. However, I think the LF can and should reverse the strategy where the modern books are concerned, since they can be secured at relatively little expense.

    I’m sure all this is kindergarten thinking to the Trustees who have lived and breathed the Lenkiewicz legacy for so many years, but I hope it will stimulate debate on this key issue: if all the paintings are lost and have to make their own way in the world but the Foundation rescues the modern library, as I think it should, will the ‘public’ ever forgive them for doing the intelligent thing?



    It’s interesting to note that in the week since Jack Sparrow posted this and its sister post regarding the future function of the Foundation, no-one has been bothered to reply except for an oblique comment by Art3366 on another thread. I presume that most people who subscribe to this site would regard themselves as being in some respect interested in Robert Lenkiewicz, and hopefully regard themselves as being more seriously appreciative of Lenkiewicz’s life and work. As such, the dearth of replies and lack of engagement would seem difficult to account for.

    Jack Sparrow raised several interesting points which, it appears, no-one is prepared to address, least of all the Foundation, if Annie Hill-Smith’s recent letter to the Herald is anything to go by. Since Lenkiewicz’s death, the Foundation has clung tenaciously to the plan outlined at its inception in 1994 for the foundation of a Barbican Art Gallery and Museum, this despite the evident fact of the steady disappearance of the collection upon which any such institution would be founded. Notwithstanding Art3366’s sunny outlook, it must be obvious to all by now that this Gallery and Museum will not exist. Does the Foundation have any other plan except for its original remit? Does no-one else have any suggestions about its role? Or is everyone waiting to see what will be left once the Estate is finally settled and only then will they start to react?

    The fate of the remaining books should be a matter of concern to everyone who values Lenkiewicz’s art, as the collection formed the intellectual basis and accompaniment to the paintings. Contrary to Art3366’s evident disinterest and belief that they are off no importance, an appreciation of the literary influences on Lenkiewicz’s thought and philosophy greatly enhances understanding of the paintings and the philosophical and social context of Lenkiewicz’s work. Again, what is the Foundation planning to do about this? As it seems likely that the remaining books will be up for auction shortly, does the Foundation have any plans to secure these? Does anyone else have any suggestions about how these can be held together if the Foundation does nothing?

    During his life, Lenkiewicz was less concerned about high or low art issues and more concerned about the philosophical questions expressed in his various projects. While he took pleasure over the technical aspects of a painting, the result was simply a medium for deeper message (Unless it was one of the later ‘girlie’ knock-outs, and you didn’t have to look far there). One didn’t come to a project exhibition to view paintings so much as to be presented with the results of a period of sociological enquiry. The projects were designed to comment upon and raise awareness of prevailing cultural ethics and practices, and if possible to challenge and change perceptions of these. Lenkiewicz wanted people to think about and to engage with the issues he was drawing attention to.

    All too rarely on this site are these aspects of Lenkiewicz’s work highlighted, and when questions arise that do require engagement with Lenkiewicz’s ideas they are generally ignored.

    If the ‘fans’ cannot even make the effort to critically engage with Lenkiewicz’s thoughts and philosophy and to debate them, then why should they expect the wider public, the art world, and the funding bodies to take an interest in him and value his work?

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