an blog | AJBlog Central | Contact me

Museums As Mausoleums: My LA Times Op-Ed Piece

In my Op-Ed piece in today’s LA Times, Museums Can’t Compete, I argue that museum collecting is dying and that the time-honored assumption of museum officials that some day, some way, most of the great masterpieces in private hands will end up in their institutions is no longer a given.
Tyler Green argues today in his Modern Art Notes that I don’t provide enough examples to bolster my arguments. Suffice it to say that the 1,100-word Op-Ed format doesn’t allow for exhaustive documentation of every point. Indeed, a few additional specifics of the type he desires wound up on the cutting-room floor. I could easily write a piece three times the length. But, for better or worse, punchy Op-Eds are higher-profile bully pulpits than longer magazine reports.
Still, let me acknowledge that there is, indeed, another side to the story. Before reading Tyler’s post, I was intending to accompany my link to my article with a shout-out to museum directors and curators for their comments, including examples of instances where they HAVE recently succeeded in snaring coveted masterpieces or in otherwise making the most of a difficult collecting environment. It still happens.
While it is true (as I explicitly state in my piece) that museums have always had a hard time competing with top collectors, the best-endowed American institutions—the Metropolitan Museum, the Cleveland Museum, the Kimbell Art Museum and the J. Paul Getty Museum—in prior decades regularly bagged some of the art market’s biggest game—including respectively, masterpieces by Velázquez, Poussin, Caravaggio and Pontormo. Now, the purchasing power of three of the Big Four just isn’t what it used to be. And the recent changes in the tax law are a major new deterrent to art donations.
As for the longterm viability of single-collector museums, there are many examples (including a few that had to be edited, for space) of institutions that have been at least temporarily hamstrung by their dead founders or by their legacies of uneven collections and/or amateurish administration, including the Barnes, the Terra and the Hammer, to name three.
To “make the case” for the “discernible uptick” in the proliferation of single-collector institutions, go here. (For those who don’t have “Times Select” and who don’t want to pay for access, it’s “Welcome to the Museum of My Stuff,” in which Carol Kino describes in detail the “trend” in which a “growing number of private collectors have been opening all manner of exhibition sites—from casual warehouse spaces to full-fledged museums—to show off their holdings and assert their aesthetic views, often subsidized by enviable tax benefits.”)
But let me stop being defensive and start being interactive: I invite CultureGrrl and LA Times readers to tell me, in an e-mail, what you think.
I’ll be glad to post your comments.

an ArtsJournal blog