Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal took a look at Karen and Robert Duncan’s 2,000-work collection of Contemporary art ranging from Louise Bourgeois and Bruce Nauman to Yinka Shonibare and Kiki Smith. The Duncans have taken over a Carnegie library in their hometown of Clarinda, Iowa. They’re turning it into another private museum of Contemporary art. That may be a really good thing:
“We tend to be so focused on the two coasts and a place like Chicago,” says Lisa Corrin, director of Northwestern University’s Block Museum of Art in Evanston, Ill. “But there are extraordinary people who are very serious about contemporary art—acquiring great works, putting together collections—far away from the usual centers. I think [the Duncans] are some of the most interesting people doing this that I’ve met in a long time.”
But there’s also something to worry about when you read that the collector’s primary motivation is hanging around with artists:
“We love the connection to artists,” said Mr. Duncan, who is chairman emeritus of Duncan Aviation, his family’s aircraft-service firm, as well as a director of the International Sculpture Center, the American Craft Council and other groups. “There is nothing we would rather do than have dinner with an artist or a group of artists. We thrive on that.”
And even their fans in the museum community strive to come up with positive ways to characterize a collection that lacks discipline or a defining principal. Those traits are surely what should animate a private collection but does that justify creating a museum?
The couple hasn’t pursued a particular direction in their collecting, preferring to buy whatever appeals. The result is a collection that ranges across many mediums, styles and geographical origins. “I think that’s what brings energy to it,” says Mr. Neubert, who later served as director of the San Antonio Museum of Art in Texas. “You’re going to encounter the unexpected. It reflects them as individuals.”
That said, the Duncans lean toward figurative and narrative art, as well as works by women including Georgia O’Keeffe, Beverly Pepper, Niki de Saint Phalle and Judith Shea. They also are committed to big outdoor sculptures by Dennis Oppenheim, Sophie Ryder and others, which dot the 40 acres around their Nebraska home.