Q&A with New Museum director Lisa Phillips, part two
Continued from this morning with New Museum director Lisa Phillips. [Image.]
MAN: One of the things non-profit institutions and their curators are supposed to do is determine what work has value to a society, value that is beyond the mere monetary. That's what scholarship and curatorial consideration is for. How do these kinds of shows do anything but exhibit and sort of validate the spending habits of certain influential collectors or trustees?
LP: Because I think it goes back to the work itself, the work that's in the collection. I don't think that it's just about validating spending habits or only about artists who have proven value because there are lots of artists in the collection that no one has heard of. There's a lot of obscure work. There's a lot of Greek artists. There's a lot of work that's not been seen.
I would say in Dakis' case that challenge and experimentation have been part of his approach, which is similar to ours. He's always pushing himself beyond. He started 25 years ago with artists who weren't known and he's continued in that vein. He continues to challenge himself. The adventure, his deep engagement with artists and their issues... [This] is a highly unusual situation. There are a lot of people who collect, there are a handful of people [who collect] in this way.
I think it's a model collection. I think he's a model person. He's incredibly generous. He's had an unbelievable impact on his city. He's had a consistent commitment to bringing in curators and critics, and he's made Athens a destination for contemporary art, like Eugenio Lopez in Mexico City. These are people who have been influential in turning the culture of their cities around, and in being advocates. He's sometimes way ahead of the rest of us in exploring where he's going. Curators learn from collectors too.
MAN: Why should a non-profit's resources be used to promote an individual, his collecting acumen and his collection? If a collector wants his collection seen, there are obviously other, better ways for him or her to do that, such as the so-called 'Miami model.'
LP: Because were an educational institution and we're here to share new art and new ideas. That's our mission. We're here to share that with the public and to be open and to be fearless in our approach. So we feel it's very relevant.
In this case, both the framing the terms of the debate and having the conversation around public-private partnerships is worth meeting head-on and having the conversation. It's worth partnering with a collector who has an extremely distinctive and high-quality collection that we do not have ourselves because we're not a collecting institution and working with that collection and making something of it.
And why is Miami model better? I think Museums would disagree that the private museum model is better than collectors collaborating with local institutions. But it doesn't have to be either /or, but both /and.
MAN: Do you worry that your decision could reinforce the notion that art is a luxury owned by the privileged few rather than a means through which artists engage communities and nations and societies in a broader discourse?
LP: I don't see it that way. I just see it as a way to enrich the public's experience and as an opportunity to present really great material that wouldn't otherwise be seen by the public. Visitors will first and foremost be engaged by the artists' works.
I guess I just have to repeat myself and say a redefinition of public-private partnerships has to be explored. Museums often can't compete in the marketplace very effectively and there are tremendous expenses involved with storage and maintenance of a collection that for a mid-sized institution like us presents a really big dilemma that could tip the balance of things. Add to that the dilemma that collectors face of not being able to share works with the public, or having them disappear into the black hole of storage -- even after they have been gifted to a museum -- and you have an interesting challenge to try to address.
I'm not sure that it's even consistent with our mission of being about new art and new ideas to collect in a traditional way. At the same time there are a lot of advantages to having a collection. You can draw from it and create exhibitions regularly and they provide the foundation for the institution. Well, is it possible to work with a group of private collections and [to] be able to draw on that resource, as a foundation? That's something that I think is worth exploring. I don't know that we'll do it, but that's were thinking about. We're really, really mindful of ethical conflicts. I wrote the ethics policy for the Whitney, I wrote it for the New Museum.
Our mandate is to push things forward in full awareness of complexities and the issues involved, but nevertheless propose new models and new ways of approaching things.
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