This article titled “Museum of the Year 2014: what makes a winner?” was written by Tracey Emin, Yinka Shonibare, David Starkey, Wolfgang Tillmans, Lynne Truss and Margaret Howell, for The Guardian on Friday 4th July 2014 08.38 UTC
Tracey Emin on the Hayward Gallery
A lot of people think that just because the Hayward has brutalist architecture it is tough, even macho. I used to live in Waterloo and visited it often, and I always knew that it wasn't macho. In fact it has very graceful spaces inside and, unusually for a museum, essentially square rooms with very high ceilings, which are among my favourite spaces in which to see and to show art.
By the time I exhibited there in 2011 it had been stripped back to its original rawness after years of being clad by people trying to make it less of what it really is. It wasn't until Ralph Rugoff took over as director in 2006 that it began to be more of what it is, and so it was a kind of dream to have a large show there. The whole process was an absolute pleasure; from doing the catalogue to working out the hang, to the actual installation, which was very complicated and would normally have been incredibly stressful. It was also fantastic being on the Southbank, especially during the summer. I felt like I was really part of London.
In the past I had been completely blown away by an Yves Klein exhibition there and one of my fa vourite shows of all time was the Prinzhorn Collection – work made by patients of German psychiatric hospitals. A lot of people would be surprised that somewhere like the Hayward would entertain a show with such emotional intimacy, but it worked brilliantly because of the contrast with the building. And it is because of these extremes that I knew that my work would find a place there – when a lot of people doubted it.
It's important to remember that the Hayward was specifically conceived and built to show art at a time when people were pushing the boundaries of art. There is a sense of that spirit around the gallery at the moment. The alternative arts school that was held there a couple of years ago brought the whole place alive both for the audience and those artists taking part in the projects. There is now a really interesting programme in place and a feeling that the gallery is somehow unafraid. People are very proud of what is happening at the Hayward at the moment, and so they should be.
Yinka Shonibare on the Yorkshire Sculpture Park
The Yorkshire Sculpture Park has long been known as an important place for displaying public sculpture and I've always looked to it as a key venue for contemporary art. There are lots of reasons why many artists have done incredible things there, not least that it's outside London. Much as I like urban chaos, this is a space to have a break from that chaos. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is in a landscape that provides a contemplative place to view art without too many distractions. But while I'd known all this as a visitor, it wasn't until I was asked to present work there last year that I really appreciated just how well it works for both the artist and the public.
They approached me at just the right time, in that after doing the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square I was looking to develop new ways of working outside. I had enjoyed the Trafalgar Square experience very much. I liked that democratic space and was in the process of developing large new sculptures that looked like fabrics blowing in the wind. Yorkshire Sculpture Park gave me a place where I could develop that work. It is one of the only spaces in the country where you can properly show things both indoors and outdoors. Neither the Serpentine nor the Tate can provide that for artists and so alongside the new pieces I was able to showcase all the other ways in which I work, taking in sculpture, drawing, photography and film.
And, for an organisation run on comparatively modest resources, it has produced some of the most exciting exhibitions anywhere in the country. The Miró show a few years ago was amazing. The current work there by Roger Hiorns works exceptionally well, and as an organisation they punch far above their weight. Also, and this is a very unusual thing for an artist to say, I was impressed by the commercial side of things, with even the shop linking in very well to the work on display. But most of all I enjoyed the community's response to my work. The engagement with people and with education is excellent. When you are there you feel that the community really do own this remarkable place. They come, they use it and they seem to enjoy it – it is wonderful to be somewhere that people feel so strongly about and want to support.
David Starkey on the Mary Rose Museum
I began by being very sceptical about the Mary Rose. I thought, as I suspect many other people did, that it was a lump of rotting old wood and what on earth was all the fuss about. But when I actually went to visit it in Portsmouth I was instantly converted. The fact that you have this complete longitudinal section of a ship that sank in 1545, with every detail intact, is remarkable enough. But the thing that makes it completely special is that there is not only the ship, but also virtually everything that was on board, including skeletons, clothing, armaments, decoration, the fine pewter and plate the admiral had just eaten off, the kit the carpenter had to desperately try to stop the water coming in, the kitchenware the cooks were using to make dinner when the whole thing heaved over and sank. It is the English Pompeii or tomb of Tutankhamun, and there is nothing like it anywhere else in Europe.
But it is one thing to have all this wonderful material, you also have to display it. The conception of the museum is a piece of genius by the architects, who were profoundly constrained by the ship being in the listed dry dock where it underwent the process of drying out. But they have achieved a brilliant coupling of location and museum-ology. You enter with the section of the ship on one side of you and all the objects on the other side, but the effect is to be right in the middle of things. Everyone talks about bringing history to life. This is the only museum I know where you are actually surrounded and embedded and absorbed.
The skeletons were a very difficult area, and it hasn't been possible to name anybody apart from the admiral, although his body has not been identified. But with modern techniques of forensic reconstruction it was possible to say that a man had been, say, an archer – because of the great over-strengthening of the forearm – as well as to identify the boatswain who was almost certainly responsible for the fact that the ship went down, because he didn't close the gun ports in time. So the bodies are both immensely personalised, but at the same time there is a kind of universality about them because they are anonymous.
While it is undoubtedly a hugely entertaining place to visit, it is also almost entirely scholarly. There are almost no computer reconstructions. You look at a jerkin and you can see where the man had a habit of putting his hand in his pocket. You can smell the tar on the rope. Where things aren't real there has been no attempt, for example, to make gun carriages out of old distressed wood. They are just perspex. There is no need for any pretence because there is so much original material. We've recently been whoring after strange gods in museums with every sort of technological device. Here it is simpler, but we can only do it because those objects are so powerful and so moving. It reinforces the view that, in the age of virtual re-creation, novelty comes from the real.
As an institution Tate Britain has had to deal with the very difficult premise of being a museum of national art in an age when national or international categories look increasingly out of place. This contradiction is especially clear in a city such as London, which is truly part of a globally interconnected world and where so many of its residents were not born in Britain. But the innovative way the museum has dealt with these contradictions has turned them into a strength. Interestingly, in terms of the current climate, the museum has not chosen to follow a simplistically nationalistic path, but instead reflects the international origins and tendencies of the art that comes through, and has influenced, Britain, as well as showing how British art is in dialogue with art from abroad.
In its recent comprehensive rehang of the permanent collection, Tate Britain not only ordered the work chronologically at a time when the trend was for everything to be themed – but also attempted to rebalance the male to female ratio of the collection, as well as the ethnic origin of artists. It has gone to great lengths to correct where it may have previously overlooked women or immigrant artists. This wider approach has not been undertaken in a tokenistic way and has actually been conducive to identifying good art. There is, of course, more work to be done in this direction and funds may be limited, but the will is definitely there.
The other focus in recent years was to bring the museum up to today's standards in terms of climate control, lighting, roofing and general refurbishment, without taking away from the original look of the rooms. These things go mostly unnoticed to the untrained eye, and it is great to see this has been done without the "showing off where the money has gone" approach so often seen today. Areas blocked off to the public for decades have been discreetly made accessible and exhibition space has been increased.
While for the general public Tate Modern might more often be the main attraction, many artists I speak to like Tate Britain and the feel of its spaces very much. Recently my work has been displayed alongside work made by the Black Audio Film Collective. Even 20 years ago that would have been unthinkable in a collection that didn't even collect photography, let alone film. This idea of the national museum reflecting the international reality of a place is a very powerful one.
I used to visit Ditchling when it was just a museum of local village life, if rather remarkable village life, to show friends the work of the calligrapher Edward Johnston, who famously designed the original typeface for London Underground. They used to have his actual desk, which is quite a modest little school desk really, but they also had what was purported to be Captain Cook's desk, which had no real reason to be in Ditchling at all.
Eventually the building became dilapidated and it was decided to make a new museum, opened only last September, to focus completely on the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic, of which Johnston was a founder member alongside figures such as Eric Gill, the painter David Jones, printer Hilary Pepler and many other people who were active and making extraordinary artistic work in this rather special place in the early years of the 20th century. Johnston's desk is in the new museum, Cook's is not.
The setting is very important. It's on the village green behind the church and is a very quiet and tranquil spot in a Sussex village. You enter through a rebuilt barn, which uses the original flint and lime walls but has been adapted to make a very tall and open space with wooden beams and a slate floor. The way the new building respects the creativity and values of the guild in terms of elegance and purity is very clever. There is something a bit church-like about it, but at the same time the size and the spirit is quite domestic. It has a grandeur, but is not at all intimidating. It's not only a museum of art and craft, but has a large bright space for people to make things themselves, or learn calligraphy.
It is not easy to display things such as typeface and calligraphy, but the museum does it brilliantly. There is a room that houses the actual Stanhope press, the big, iron 19th-century printing press that Pepler used when he set up the St Dominic's Press. It is displayed in a wonderful room with tall windows, linking you to the outside world. The press stands as an almost sacred object in this chapel-like room. Around it there is a huge amount of original type displayed in cases. It was apparently too difficult or expensive to make the really large blocks in lead, so they are all hand carved in wood. There are also fascinating things that were printed on the press, including a series of 1920s pamphlets that "reflect the interests of Eric Gill and his friends", such as one on birth control and another on the "un-Christian apparel favoured by females". The whole thing is beautiful but also very modest, and it has that quality of reflecting the spirit of that group of remarkable people and artists working quietly away in the Sussex countryside.
When I first visited the Sainsbury Centre in Norwich seven or eight years ago I immediately loved the building, and thought it seemed very new and contemporary. So I was surprised to find out that it was an early Norman Foster, from his minimalist days, and was opened as long ago as 1978. It is very light and almost like a large factory, yet is such a beautiful space to exhibit the eclecticism of the Sainsbury permanent collection. Every time you go you find something new because every object is so different to everything else. Over the years I've found myself captivated by bronze Degas ballerinas, Picassos, Bacons and Henry Moores, as well as the ceramics of Lucy Rie and an ancient ceremonial axe, which is just a gorgeous object of itself. Museums should encourage you to look at things that you wouldn't normally see, and the permanent collection is so varied that is exactly what it does.
The museum is well laid out for just wandering around, and every so often you look out of the window at these lovely green views and the outdoors plays its part as much as the inside. It is sited on the campus of the University of East Anglia – I feel quite envious of the students who live so close by.
The list of temporary exhibitions matches the eclecticism of the permanent collection. I loved their show of basket-making from all over the world; not just containers but boats, clothes – all sorts of things. And their big show last year, in the newly refurbished galleries, seemed to sum up the museum's appeal. It was called Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia and typically, although all the objects had some connection with East Anglia, they spanned just about every form of artistic endeavour you could imagine, from a Lotus Grand Prix racing car to a first-century head of the emperor Claudius to a Stubbs painting. It's worth going to Norwich to see the building alone, but I can guarantee that anyone making a visit will discover something new and fascinating.
• The winner of the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year will be announced at the National Gallery, London WC2N, on 9 July, where the Museums Summit, a half-day international conference, will also be held. For tickets and information go to artfund.org/prize.
• On July 8 2014, a reference to Hilary Pepler was corrected from 'she' to 'he'.
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