Tyler Green is the self-styled crusader of the art world. He’s led some of the most aggressive campaigns against museums that defy his sense of the appropriate uses of their art. With the controversy over the National Academy and the Rose museums dying down, he’s found a new campaign in the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s deal with the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas:
The MCASD is the third museum to allow a commercial entity the opportunity to make money off of its collection by renting it to the casino-based gallery. The Phillips Collection pioneered the collection-goes-to-Vegas model in 2000 by splitting admissions revenue with the Bellagio — and AAMD looked the other way. The MFA Boston took the concept a step further by accepting over $1 million from PaceWildenstein’s PaperBall subsidiary in return for sending 21 Monets (and later other paintings) to the Bellagio. Each time Boston rented out art to a commercial entity, AAMD shrugged.
To Green’s credit, he gives MCASD’s director Hugh Davies plenty of space to make his case on the matter:
Davies and I discussed several other aspects of the arrangement, but one in particular sticks in my head. The Brandeis University president views the Rose Art Museum’s art collection as an asset to monetize. (Davies is a former adviser to the Rose and he wrote Brandeis an angry letter about what it’s trying to do.) Albeit through a different instrument, isn’t that what MCASD is doing here: monetizing an asset?
“No more than when the Phillips is when it re-does their air-handling system [and sends its collection on the road],” Davies said. “I always find amusing when these institutions fix their air-handling systems and the collections travel for two or three years! It’s a way of generating revenue, no question…
What’s clear from all of this is that Green questions whether art should be used to make money in any way. I would suggest that denying the economic value of art is a great way to imperil it. Few works of art, mainly religious works (and often not those), owe their origins to commercial transactions in either their creation or use. It may enhance the status of art in Green’s eyes–and he’s certainly not alone in this view–to remove the economic element from the art. But that’s little more than an act of sublimation that often has the perverse effect of adding exchange value to the work. (Exchange value is at the heart of the Rose problem.)
MCASD Rents Collection Works to Las Vegas Casino (Modern Art Notes)
The Debate Over Collection-to-Casino Rentals (Modern Art Notes)