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…
Maybe 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.”
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