Geoff Edgers had an excellent piece in the Boston Globe last week about the Rose Museum and Brandeis’s attempts to monetize the art holdings therein. If we bracket away the troubling asset grab that the university made against an institution with a separate budget and endowment, there are a lot of interesting questions to be explored here.
The first is to acknowledge the growth of museums around the world keen on having the best art to display, even on a temporary basis. As Edgers shows, the museum world has a found a number of ways to turn art assets into productive assets through traveling exhibitions and loans:
In the 1990s, the Whitney Museum of American Art was paid $4.4 million to provide works to the San Jose Museum of Art, and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts signed a 20-year deal to provide exhibitions to an MFA branch in Nagoya, Japan, for $50 million. More recently, the High Museum in Atlanta paid $7 million to borrow works from the Louvre in Paris for a three-year period ending in 2009. […] In 2004, the MFA agreed to lend more than half its Monet collection to a for-profit Las Vegas gallery in a casino for a payment of at least $1 million. That angered members of the American Association of Museum Directors.
So it would seem the museum world has worked out its own way of monetizing its collections under the guise of museum-to-museum loans, which would seem to be the thrust of the Sotheby’s arrangement. But the story quickly veers toward a red herring:
David Ross, the former director of Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art who led the Whitney Museum when it worked out its deal with the San Jose Museum of Art, said he was intrigued by Brandeis’s deal with Sotheby’s. He said he would be concerned, however, that loans might be made to wealthy art collectors for private use or to corporations that don’t have conservationists on staff who know how to properly treat art.
“If the idea is that Joe Smith would rent that Andy Warhol for five years and will pay to have it in his home and promise to take good care of it, that’s a terrible idea,’’ said Ross.
Given the state of many museums today, the works might be far safer in the hands of a wealthy collector with conservationists–by the way, isn’t that why one has contracts to spell out the necessary conditions for taking possession of works owned by another party?–on call than moldering in a poorly-funded on-site storage facility. Ross goes on to add this final comment:
“The best of ideas would be to find somewhere in the world where they have more money and space than art.’’
That seems to be code for loaning the works to the Gulf States where a large number of new museums are being built. So instead of Joe Smith, we’re looking for a Faisal. Which leads us to Lisa Dennison, the person at Sotheby’s most likely to lead the effort:
“It’s a special collection that has some illustrious provenance attached to it,’’ she said. “There’s a story to be told here. And how many people have been to Waltham, Mass., to see the Brandeis collection? Not many.’’ […] Dennison said it is too early to speculate publicly on just what kind of arrangements Sotheby’s will propose to Brandeis. But she said the Rose’s collection is very marketable.
Brandeis to Loan Art to Boost Budget (Boston Globe)