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BlogBack: Chris Crosman Praises Fisk/Crystal Bridges Deal, Blasts AAMD’s “Myopic” Policy

Chris Crosman, former curator at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Bentonville, AR
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

[Much more on the details of the final Fisk/Crystal Bridges deal, here.]

Chris Crosman, founding curator of Alice Walton‘s Crystal Bridges Museum (who left his post on Dec. 31, after working there for six years), responds to News Flash: Court Order to Send Fisk’s Stieglitz Collection to Crystal Bridges:

As someone who was involved with the Stieglitz Collection saga from the earliest conversations between the Crystal Bridges Museum and Fisk University, I have a profoundly different view of the final outcome as recently confirmed by the Tennessee courts. In an era when even the wealthiest institutions (including Crystal Bridges) are unable to compete for great works of art on a consistent basis, the appeal of collection sharing is increasingly attractive.

For Fisk and Crystal Bridges, there are additional benefits of joint ownership. Importantly, the Stieglitz Collection will be kept intact, providing a snapshot of Alfred Stieglitz‘s personal taste as America’s first and foremost champion of high modernist art.

Fisk’s relationship with Crystal Bridges ensures that the collection will have ongoing professional conservation. In addition, research by nationally prominent scholars will lead to increased knowledge of the collection and the artistic practices of the Stieglitz circle, as scholarly research programs at Crystal Bridges will likely be put in place.

One hopes that part of the cash influx from the partial sale can be allocated toward ensuring Fisk’s overall artistic program, including the Jubilee Singers, arguably more central to the school’s artistic identity than the Stieglitz Collection.

I say this with full knowledge that the Association of Art Museum Directors’ guidelines [my link, not his] governing art museums stipulate that proceeds from the sale of collections must be allocated toward new acquisitions. Fisk needs to be unshackled from patronizing, museum establishment-imposed bonds that do not address Fisk’s unique circumstances and rich history. Fisk’s future must be its own to determine.

If all of this sends a chill down the spines of potential donors of art work, so be it. Let them consider the long view, taking into account institutions’ changing priorities and needs. Such is the basis for real philanthropy, as distinguished from self-aggrandizing “legacy” building. I have a lot more faith in donors than in the AAMD and its selectively, inconsistently enforced policies that generally apply the myopic rule of one-size-fits-all.

Access, not ownership, is the issue. Before judging motives and future outcomes, critics should just take a breath and wait for two unlikely partners who might just make some very sweet music together in the years ahead.

an ArtsJournal blog