It is curious when visiting art galleries and museums how diverse their photography policies are. The rules seem to be determined by how anal and old fashioned the institution is, rather than the preservation needs of the collection or the copyright and other issues related to the works and their histories.
In Australia the NSW Gallery has a clear policy displayed on its website and in the space on brochures – it is allowed without flash (this is very important). In contrast, the NGV in Victoria has an abstinence only policy. It says no photography at the venues but has no explanation on its website, despite having copyright and sketching policies.
A similar contrast exists between the Ballarat and Bendigo galleries in regional Victoria. Ballarat has a similar policy to NSW, and I carefully read the rules then happily snapped away without flash. Bendigo says no like the NGV. The result is that while Ballarat will get a glowing review in a future post. complete with many images, Bendigo got a curt visitor survey response form and no review here as I have nothing to show to base a discussion on.
I saw the Archibald Prize 2008 and the Fashion in the Age of Queen Victoria exhibition, but the permanent collection was disappointing.
The topic is much debated by art bloggers. One cynically claims the no photography policies exist to support the income from the gallery shops, which may sell less postcards if we could all easily take images home with us.
My view is if there are no conservation issues (fragility to light), or inconvenience to other visitors (which can be controlled by gallery staff), or copyright or intellectual property issues (items from private collections on temporary loan or indigenous items), then as a taxpayer I should be able to photograph works I help pay for.
In some cases the bans are excessively ironic and I sometimes sneak a peak in the NGV. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC has a policy like the NSW gallery. It’s about common sense. It’s time for the NGV to wake up to the twenty-first century and embrace rather than alienate art lovers. Bendigo could then follow its lead.