There’s an endless tension between art collectors and museums that has come out again with the announcement of the Art Institute of Chicago’s gift from Stefan Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson. Part of the terms that won Edlis over was the promise to keep the works on view for 50 years. Michael Savage, who writes a blog called the Grumpy Art Historian, neatly illustrates one side of the argument. Those who decry the moving of the Barnes Collection to central Philadelphia might be considered the opposition:
It’s a bad acquisition not because of the pictures, but because they paid too high a price, agreeing to display the collection together for fifty years. That is not really a gift. It’s an expensive acquisition that hands over a public space and subverts it to the whim of vain plutocrats.
Donors Stefan T. Edlis and Gael Neeson are buying themselves a memorial, over-riding judgments of more expert curators and over-riding the changing views of posterity to insist that their taste is imposed for half a century, that their pictures are shown whilst other, perhaps better pictures are consigned to storage. If the importance of the collection were beyond doubt then the condition would be unnecessary. The collection’s focus on the most currently fashionable artists makes it especially vulnerable to changing taste, and I suspect that future curators and visitors will bitterly regret this acquisition.