Without shaming…

The thing about my “How the Art World Works” series is that it continues to grow. This post will doubtless be incorporated into it in the future. Anyway…

Let’s say that a corporation has an art collection; some do. And let’s say that this corporation wants to show it’s collection. It approaches a museum with an offer: we’ll fund the show and provide our in-house curator (or a consultant) to put the show together. Should the museum take that offer?

This scenario also applies to individual collectors wealthy enough to have a large collection and pay a curator for his/her services.

Here’s why the museum should say no.

Funding: Borrowing art, whether from an individual or an institution, should be separate from the sources of funding. The last thing a museum wants to be seen doing is renting their galleries out to whomever has the $$$ to do so. Quid pro quo, in this instance, is a synonym for “conflict of interest.” In truth this can be easily avoided, and so often is that it’s hard for museum managements to remember the conflict.

And why should a museum keep potential benefactors at arms length?

Curatorial independence: A museum’s mandate is educational – I’ve said that before. Exhibitions are built around the ideas being taught. “We own all this” is not really a lesson. It’s forgivable when a museum trots out selections from its permanent collections with only a thin web of lessons strung between them. But if someone else is paying the bills and shaping the lessons, the museum becomes just a set of empty rooms to be filled as the organizing company sees fit.

I was reminded of this by some museum shows of recent years which were all too clearly rental shows, of little interest if you don’t work for the company “lending” the works.

More to come, I’m sure.


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