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Unconventional Partnerships: Let’s Have More

I’ve had occasion recently to review the forward exhibition schedules of museums across the country, and I’ve been noticing something: Many museums seem more open to partnering on exhibitions with a wider variety of “venues,” as we sometimes term the locations of special exhibitions.

In the old days, art museums operated almost always within their own strata of peers. The Metropolitan Museum* would work with, say, the Louvre or the Art Institute of Chicago, but not with, say, the Joslyn Museum in Omaha. The Joslyn had nothing that the Met wanted, the theory went, so why send its goodies to Nebraska? I explained some of this in an Arts & Leisure section cover at The New York Times back in 1996: Have Show, Will Travel (Within Limits). It contained this passage:

…Museums clearly use their works of art as cards to play, to win a stop on a show’s tour or to ease the borrowing of some work they want. Indeed, when curators plot shows, part of the job is to know which museums have the essential paintings and whether they will merely lend them or will want to play host.

“One of the prime things in the museum world is your key lending pieces,” said Mr. [David] Ross [director] of the Whitney. “The organizing museum doesn’t make decisions about a tour until it decides which museums it has to get loans from.”…

That principle is still in operation, but it has been declining in power for years and now — while trading cards are still important — the seriousness of a show, the reputation of the organizing curator, and local audience now come into play more frequently. And museums seem to be much more open, less conscious of whether a potential partner has the proper prestige. That’s how the Denver Art Museum, lacking Impressionist paintings until a recent gift, was able to organize Becoming van Gogh. (Not that it was easy.)

cezanne-ex-pmaSo I have noted these partnerships, among many others:

  • The Milwaukee Museum of Art with the Pompidou Centre on a coming retrospective of Kandinsky;
  • the Met and the Denver Art Museum on The American West in Bronze;
  • the Cleveland Museum’s Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes went not only to the Kimbell but also to the NSU Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale;
  • The Barnes Foundation is collaborating with the Art Gallery of Hamilton on The World is An Apple: The Still Lifes of Paul Cézanne; 
  • LACMA is sending its  California Design, 1930 to 1965, to the Peabody Essex;
  • LACMA is collaborating with Kunsthaus Zürich and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts on Expressionism in Germany and France: From Van Gogh to Kandinsky;
  • The Barnes Foundation, the Parrish Art Museum, and NSU Museum of Art (again) collaborated on a retrospective for William Glackens.

This is a welcome and important development. American museums need to share their collections with others that have less whenever it’s appropriate. That is how we will gain audiences — when people in art-poor cities can see for themselves what makes art great.

Photo Credit: Cézanne’s Still Life with Apples and a Glass of Wine, to be shown at the Barnes; Courtesy of the Barnes 

*I consult to a Foundation that supports the Met


  1. If you are going to reference a museum please make sure you use the correct spelling. And you comments regarding the Met and the Joslyn aren’t exactly accurate. Some fact checking is in order.

    • Apologies for the misspelling — but surely you are not contending that the Met and the Joslyn are regular partners? In that sentence, the use of “say” indicates was that it was a made-up example.

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