Germany’s Handesblatt has a fascinating story about a regional museum in Leverkusen that some local officials are considering closing due to the cost of operations. There are many themes here but the fact that Gerhard Richter has complained that the museum holds two of his important paintings should bring more attention to the issue. Richter objects to the idea that his work can and might be sold to satisfy the community’s debts. The real issue is the role of regional museums and whether they can continue to play a meaningful role in Germany’s cultural life:
The reasons for the misery of regional museums like the Abteiberg are both numerous and contradictory.
On the one hand, there is overwhelming competition from big cities, which turned their museums into tourist attractions and satisfy cultural hunger of the masses with blockbuster exhibitions. In two-and-a-half days, as many visitors come to the Tate Modern in London as are attracted in a year to the museums in Mönchengladbach and Leverkusen.
On the other hand, artists no longer see museum displays as proof of artistic quality. For most painters and sculptors, success at top galleries, art fairs and auctions is much more important than a place of honor in a museum. Fame is measured in terms of increasing prices and media coverage, not by presence in a public collection.
And then there are the museums themselves, which suffer from both too much homogeneity and arbitrariness at the same time. They present easily accessible and stylistically typical art to attract any visitors at all, while groaning under the weight of directionless art production.
German art historian Walter Grasskamp estimates 95 to 99 percent of museum holdings are stacked and stored away – some masterpieces, but many other works rightly consigned to oblivion.
It’s questionable whether museums in Leverkusen – alongside Cologne, Düsseldorf, Duisburg or Mönchengladbach – really need to own a few canvasses by Gerhard Richter or other renowned artists.
Christiane Lange, director of the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart, recently warned that too many museums are being opened. Since 1990 more than 700 have been newly established, many of which are now languishing. Instead of “constant growth,” she proposed that smaller collections be combined to concentrate public attention. It is especially surprising that there haven’t yet been any spectacular museum closures. But it seems to be only a matter of time.
Regional Art Museums Fight to Survive (Handelsblatt Global Edition)