The new exhibition wave: how private contemporary art collections are changing the future of the art museum.
For 200 years, since the opening of Louvre in Paris, museums have mostly been structures strictly tied to the national states.
Of course, the huge amount of money needed to run such a complex organization as the British Museum in London, or the Alte Pinakothek in Berlin, and needed to acquire works by Leonardo or Tintoretto (letting aside the spoils of war) were and are not available to single mecenates, with some notable exceptions as the Getty Collections.
Main task of public museums is to acquire the best artworks available on the market, but this is exactly their limit: no public museums want to invest in works that have not built their own reputation yet — they have responsibilities towards the institutions financing them. Modern, and above all contemporary art have always been the battlefield of art merchants and art galleries, a field strongly biased by economic interests, and sometimes by speculations. A quite dangerous investment for public money.
On the other side, museums, to survive, have often been forced to abandon their most accultured visitors — accustomed to the silent exhibitions — to often become cultural amusement parks, as outlined in 1992 by the art critic Adam Gopnik, who in “The New Yorker”, said that “forces at work in the museum world had all but annihiliated an important audience for art: a dedicated army of nonspecialists […] making up the bulk of the regular museum going public. In search of revenue” he argued “the museums began promoting blockbuster exhibitions to draw in busloads of tourists, many of them drawn not by the art but by the message that art was now fashionable” (quoted in the “New York Times”, February 15, 1994).
At the beginnings of the 90’s of the XXth Century, this situation — traditional museums blackmailed by economical needs and pushed to lower their standards, and modern and contemporary art confined in commercial galleries — opened the way to a new form of art fruition: the independent contemporary art museums, mostly run by wealthy collectors who for several reasons wanted to share their collections while acquiring new pieces only according to their taste and experience.
Probably, the official birth act of the new exhibitions’ wave are the words by the art critic Arthur Danto, who in 1994 declared: “The art musuem as an institution is only 200 years old. There’s no reason why it has to go on forever. It’s not like a hospital, after all” (Ibid.).
Private museums are now expanding all over the world. They do not follow fixed formulas: some of them, as the Boros Collection in Berlin, simply present works that have just been produced — a never ending work in progress; others are shaped as private houses opened to the public: Ingvild Goetz, of the Goetz Collection in Munich, says that “I wanted to take my extensive collection out of the depot and look at it in different exhibitions. In my own museum I have access to it all the time, and I can sit in front of my works for as long as I like” (quoted in C. Bechteler & Dora Imhof [eds.], The Private museum of the Future, 2018).
The collectors’ ego plays an important role but, after all, all the art history has been built upon the desire of glory — with excellent results: Jens Faurschou, of the Faurschou Foundation, Copenhagen and Beijing, tells that his drive “is to make great exhibitions, and my ambition is to show artworks of greater scale to larger audiences” (Ibid.).
Other museums feel themselves completely set free from the tradition: “At Muzeum Susch [in Zernez, Poland],” says Grażyna Kulczyk “my collection will serve as a pool of ideas. The museum is definitely not a depot. I would prefer it to be perceived as an experimental institute” (Ibid.).
We will explore some of these important and interesting private institutions. One interesting question could also be: private contemporary art museums locate themselves somewhere between the traditional museum and the art gallery, thus in a somewhat ambiguous situation.
Can their example be applied to other kinds of museum, as history or technology museums?