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MoMA Sends Its Works To Australia: Why So Silent About It?

The Museum of Modern Art did a major deal the other day, but oddly enough there’s no press release on it — at MoMA. Its partner, on the other hand, issued a big press release, accompanied by a statement from the culture minister, John Day. It’s all received excellent press — in Australia.

I wonder why…

CRI_159225.jpgMaybe it’s because the deal will send works from MoMA’s permanent collection to the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth, in six shows that begin in June 2012 and continue for three years.

The first show is Picasso to Warhol: Twelve Modern Masters, which will include more than 100 works of art from MoMA by Mondrian, Matisse, Brancusi, Pollock, Johns, and others. The five other shows will include photography and design works.

For this, MoMA might be receiving on the order of $6 million. Minister Day used that figure in his release, saying ”…$6million funding, announced in the recent 2011-12 State Budget, would allow the Art Gallery of Western Australia to become the only Australian venue to host these MoMA exhibitions.” That would be Australian dollars, which converts to about $6.3 million U.S. dollars, but it’s unclear how much of the funds will go to MoMA. (AGWA also has a principal corporate sponsor — Ernst & Young — for this series, which is called “Great Collections of the World.”

This all was reported in an article in The Australian on June 9, last Wednesday. On Sunday night, there’s still nothing posted at MoMA’s press site.

Why is MoMA so shy about this at home? In the AGWA’s press release, MoMA director Glenn Lowry said he was “thrilled to be entering into this partnership.” I’m guessing that MoMA fears it will be accused of renting out its collection and/or of subjecting precious works to the conservation issues that traveling always present — not to mention absenting these works from MoMA’s own visitors (The 1966 Warhol self portrait, used in the Australian press release and above, is currently not on view.) And, of course, there’s the fee: museums aren’t supposed to profit from lending their collections; they’re just supposed to cover their costs.

But, honestly, that idea went by the wayside a long time ago, and MoMA has lent big before, notably to the High Museum in Atlanta. Lots of other museums are also lending entire shows, from the Louvre and the Picasso Museum in France, to the National Galleries of Scotland and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Maybe it’s time to let this all out in the open, instead of doing it on the sly.

Museums have to raise money, and whatever they do — name galleries for donors, raise admission prices, deaccession art, you name it — yields criticism nowadays. I find many of these tactics to be acceptable, depending on the terms. But the terms — and the deals — have to be disclosed, at least in part, for the public to understand exactly what’s happening.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of MoMA



  1. I think there’s very little to worry about for two reasons. 1. MOMA’s current building (which of course is bigger than the building it absorbed), has less exhibition space than it had before the last rebuilding campaign. Many works that used to be on view are in storage. 2. MOMA has almost bottomless reserves. I bet most of what gets lent to Australia (by big names, too) has never (or almost never) been on view in New York.
    If this is a way for museums to raise money while airing out and sharing their reserves, I’m all in favor of it.

  2. I bet MoMA is not getting much of that $6M free and clear. So much is going to be spent on crating/shipping, couriers, marketing (from the Oz end), exhibit design, installation (also from the Oz end), photography, extra security, possibly beefing up climate control, etc. If MoMA sees $1M in “profit” it would be large.
    Having said that…museum collections are meant to be seen, carefully, in the right conditions. It does nobody good to hold the works in permanent storage.

  3. Julia, I wouldn’t be so sure. I think shipping, etc. is above and beyond the $6 mn., because the minister said the allocation would “help” pay for the costs. Plus, I recently spoke with the director of another museum that is currently showing about 60 paintings borrowed from one museum – this director told me that she had paid a $400,000 “fee,” above and beyond shipping, insurance and other costs, to borrow the works.

  4. What annoys me a little is the content of the first show itself–”Twelve Modern Masters.” It’s great that the people of Australia will get to see works they might otherwise never see, but this generic, greatest-hits salad of marquee names is the most curatorially lazy kind of show there is. They couldn’t have culled 100 works from MOMA’s extensive reserves on a tighter, more stimulating, more imaginative theme?

  5. Supporting art exchanges between countries is culturally positive however in happens. In these times why be so hypersensitive on issues that culminate in helping our largest cultural institutions stay afloat? While many hem and haw about this current issue, I’ll bet there are multitude of Australians who will be most pleased to see these pieces even though thus said exhibition seems to be a lazy curatorial attempt at best. Cultural exchanges almost always create bridges of understanding and exceptance and that alone should suffice as reason enough.

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