Monday, November 16, 2009

Private goes public

Are private collection shows indeed an insult to scholarship and curators as states the subtitle in Artnewspaper?
All this uproar over the New Museum's planned series of private collection shows, titled "Imaginary Museum" - first showing Greek mega collector Dakis Joannou's collection.
The anti - capitalist view that "these kinds of shows do nothing but exhibit and pseudo-validate the spending habits and taste of influential collectors" misses an important point.
The escalation of the market in the past 10 years has deprived the public access to many important works of art, that have been acquired by private collectors, who could afford to pay prices that were way over museum budgets. In the life of an artwork there are only very brief periods in which it becomes a commodity - after a primary purchase it may never appear on the market again and the only a few people will enjoy it.
The public exhibit of private collections has two exciting aspects:
1. Public access to private owned works.
2. A chance to learn about the building of a collection and to see the sum of all parts.
This, to me, being a scholar doing research on collecting is a great gift because I know that the reason for collecting -unlike the opinions of the nasty commenters of the Artnewspaper - is not the monetary value. If you don't understand the motivations for collecting you cannot see this in the correct perspective. I'm not saying that monetary benefits do not motivate many art acquirers but we are talking about mega - collectors. These people could be viewed as treading new paths in the realm of art, as they juxtapose artworks in a unique way - making choices based on their taste and whatever other criteria they apply to their collection.(Each collector has their own taxonomy). It should fascinate art lovers to peep into the guts of a collection of passion.
The choice of Jeff Koons as the curator is absolutely brilliant - an artist curator always has a unique perspective and one surely cannot suspect that this can push up Koons prices higher than they already are.... Curating a show from a private collection could be seen as creating another path within the collection and could be an exciting challenge for any museum curator. Choosing works from an important collection is a privilege that shouldn't be dismissed and certainly shouldn't be seen as degrading.
OK, there is much ego involved. Like the story of the collectors trip that Joanonou arranged in 2004 - inviting a group of collectors visiting Art Basel in his private jet to Athens to see his collection. After the viewing, in the bus on the way to dinner, one of the collectors asked: What are we doing here? What is this all about? The answer was - this is about him buying it and not you. ( I copied this story from an art magazine some years ago and unfortunately didn't note the source).
So we see that an important part of having a collection is showing it to others. Some collectors make theirs public - like the Rubells but there are more that don't and have the prerogative not to. Therefore, these collection shows should be seen as a gift to the public - even if there is some vanity here - look at the bright side and run to see the trophies - This may be your only chance..

I just noticed the New Museum's response - They probably said it better then me...

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