The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones tries to untangle a difficult topic. Using three extraordinary but small museums as examples–Dulwich Picture Gallery, Courtauld Gallery and the Wallace Collection–he asks what an institution is to do when gift shop traffic and visitors is the measure of success. The Wallace saw gift shop receipts soar during the recent Damien Hirst show but few thought the art merited the show or reflected the Wallace’s mission:
In a sane world these galleries would not have to compete for attention. It would be fine if they were empty of people. They could just concentrate on presenting their collections well, and perhaps putting on the occasional erudite exhibition of old master drawings – indeed, the Courtauld is about to do just that.
But this is not a sane world. Art is as nuts as everything else. If you don’t get people in, you’re not accessible, you’re elitist – and your budget becomes vulnerable. The monies that can be got from gift shops, cafes, and ticket sales are considered indispensable. And besides, these collections doubtless have a genuine democratic urge to share their riches.
Smart Art: How to Sell Out Without Selling Out (Jonathan Jones/Guardian)