The ultimate status symbol for rich collectors: you own museum!

What an interesting article on The Guardian!

As I already talked about in one of my previous posts, it’s becoming clear that private collectors are trying to substitute public museums by funding or building new exhibition places!

“The new trend comes as the art world sees a major sector shift. While state-funded institutions struggle with budget cuts and dwindling sponsorship, increasing numbers of private collectors are buying contemporary art. This has sent auction prices soaring, making it ever harder for public museums to compete.”

So here it is the same old song… that’s something I already talked about because it’s another aspect of the issues that public museums shoud face:


“Countries as far flung as China and Mexico, Greece and Australia have collectors with grandiose plans for museums that reflect their private, often idiosyncratic tastes. Most do not charge admission, whereas public galleries in the UK now face the prospect of imposing entry fees


Quite interesting if we consider that the news of the day is the donation to the nation (UK in this case) of the content of his Chelsea Gallery by Charles Saatchi (about 200 works of contemporary art). About this, take a look at this article.

But why are they doing so now? Here the mistery revealed!

“Oliver Barker, senior international specialist at Sotheby’s contemporary art department, said that when collectors simply donated to public museums they do not experience the “creative involvement” that they got from creating their own museums with their own taste (like Roman Abramovich’s girlfriend Dasha Zhukova, who’s staging world-class exhibitions in a former bus garage turned contemporary art gallery) “.

There are more and more private collectors from all over the world who want to exhibit their belongings and  to keep  them no longer in storage, and this is because they now need to experience the greater satisfaction of being the creator of something new and completely theirs (and not to be a museum’s benefactor with their name on a label). And all this to the detriment of public museums.

So, here it is: museums can’t stand the collectors’ needs no more and so, the super-riches have decided to become museologists themselves!

And what are  museums doing about that?!?!?!?



A private museum: the only solution to enrich the cultural offer??

I’d like to report some quotes from an editorial I just written on The Los Angeles Times focusing on the issue of the month: Eli Broad’s museum.

I’ve already written about it in two previous posts, but I think it could be interesting to hear another voice, and to try to comment it…

According to the journalist the City Council, called to decide if to give to Broad a piece of property dowontown, should say yes, because it is going to be the best thing for the public.

In fact, “There is no direct cost to the public in Broad’s proposal. He is offering to spend $100 million to build a museum, and then to contribute an additional $200 million to endow it so that its operating costs will be privately paid as well”. Even if, by giving the land via a 99-year lease at $1 a year, the city won’t take any advantage from possible sales or property taxes.

But the journalist believe that this is a good opportunity as well, if we consider the positive consequences on the urban cultural offer that this museum could have: “The city and county would get a sizable art collection and what would probably be a first-rate architectural monument. The new museum could realistically be expected to draw tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of tourists a year and would create more than 1,000 construction jobs as well as full- and part-time positions once it’s complete (…) the museum could be expected to boost the value of the property around it; that’s why Related Cos., which is struggling to develop the area in this economy, supports the project”.

And then the journalist reminds to all of us that this won’t be the only museum supported by the City Council, but that there are many others (and he takes as an example the funding to the LACMA, not taking into consideration that it is a PUBLIC COUNTY museum!!!)

So nothing but positive aspects from this project, but is it really so??

The real problem, as I already written, is that, for the editorial, the museum will enrich the cultural offer and, by supporting it, the Council is going to do something important for the public. But the editorial is a little bit arbitrary asserting that this is the most effective solution to promote culture, because there could be many other solutions to do so, because L.A. already have many museums and maybe it would be a better solution to support their activity to the public.

Because the real problem for museums it is not the lack of them (we have plenty of them, maybe too many) or a great architectural site to place them but the presence of visitors in their rooms! Museums must become closer to the public, make it come back again and again to visit the collections and the exhibitions and  to participate in the educational activities… This is going to be of public utility for real!

New Whitney vs Old Whitney?

Just some updates about the Downtown Whitney Museum project…

As I already written in my previous post, the Whitney Museum is going to start the building of its new site in the Meatpacking District in New York. The only problem now is how to cut the un-necessary costs and to save all the money it is possible to save in order to be able to sustain the making of the project, for example by taking into consideration the use of different materials for the building itself… In fact, we should not forget that even if the museum bought the land from the city council at half the market price, it still needs to raise an additional $215 million to reach its goal of $590 million, most of which would go to the endowment…

As I read in a New York Times article recently, the architect of the project, Mr Renzo Piano, was asked to reconsider some aspects of the design: “As the Whitney struggles to contain costs — and get construction underway before prices creep back up — its architect, Renzo Piano, keeps revising his design in response, trimming here, pushing back there. Critics don’t normally weigh in at this stage of a design or dwell on the many tricky decisions involved in maintaining the design’s integrity in the face of financial pressures. But in this case those pressures are unusually intense, and the way they are resolved will determine the answer to a question on the minds of everyone who cares about the museum: Will the final result be an experience as good as — or better than — Marcel Breuer’s Whitney?”

But all the construction issues are exacerbated by the ticking clock and the fear of having to live down another flop, considering that the project of the new museum had so many stops and restarts…

And, at the end, the real problem is another one: is it really worth it? As even the journalist suggests few institutions’ identities are as closely linked to their buildings as the Whitney’s is to the Breuer.

So, maybe the board should consider this aspect before rushing to such a challenging project, because “for Mr. Piano’s design to really succeed, it will need to rise at least to the same level as the original building as a place to view art. Anything less will not only be a shame for the city, but a defining emblem of failure for the Whitney”.

This is the end of starchitectural museums, my friend…

In some of my previous posts I called some architects “archistars”. I admit I never heard the definition “starchitecture” but I don’t think it changes the sense of what the two words tries to define.

And so I think it is quite interesting to find an article speaking about some issues I already tried to bring to your attention, that is the worrying diffusion, among public and private museums, of management strategies trying to repeat the “Bilbao effect”.

Another thing I didn’t know (I know I don’t know, would say Socrates, so I’m in good company…) is that it does exist an off-broadway satire talking about these kind of archistars… This means that it’s a real phenomenon!

Anyway, there’s an interesting sentence in the article: “The trend that the play meant to skewer—dubbed “the Bilbao Effect” after the huge success of Frank Gehry’s 1997 Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in Spain—is just about over. The phenomenon of using iconic architecture to promote a city, an institution, or a real-estate development was a product of the economic boom that began in the late 1990s and ended with the recession in 2008”.

So, I wasn’t just completely wrong when I wrote about the recent tendency to replicate the Bilbao Effect, and just as I wrote the article reports the beginning of the end of this tendency!

For younger architects, in fact, these pharaonic building are like the ruins of an ancient past… or, as says Rosalie Genevro, director of the Architectural League in New York, “the spectacle building is kind of a dinosaur”.

And just because some museums’ collections are partly constituted by real dinosaurs it doesn’t mean that they should keep on funding these kinds of architectural proposals!

And so… Cut it off!

Already planned projects reduced their ambitions:

“New York’s Whitney Museum wanted Renzo Piano (there a pic next here) to slenderize his design for a downtown expansion to save costs, and the Tate Modern in London asked Herzog & de Meuron (take a look at the pic here: quite impressive, ah???) to simplify the scheme for its new addition by excising complex glass protrusions. Other new projects are already reflecting a slimmed-down sensibility. Jerusalem’s Israel Museum, scheduled to reopen in July, has been renovated and expanded to enhance the experience for visitors, not overload their senses”. (Doesn’t it sound familiar??? Take a look to my previous posts!)

New plans changed completely their approach:

“The Cincinnati Art Museum, for example—in a city that already has one knockout iconic arts center by Zaha Hadid—recently put on hold its plans for an addition by the hip Rotterdam office Neutelings Riedijk. The Berkeley Art Museum in California canceled a stunning design for a new building by Japanese architect Toyo Ito after failing to raise enough money. Instead the museum will retrofit an old printing plant for new gallery space”.

But these stream hasn’t completely gone away…

“Many of Asia’s economies are still booming, and China in particular hungers for spectacle architecture… In Abu Dhabi and Qatar, major cultural projects, with exuberant designs by Gehry, Hadid, and Jean Nouvel (it’s the last photo), remain on track, at least for now. And on the West Coast, two contemporary-art museums—one devoted to the collection of Eli Broad in Los Angeles, the other an extension of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to house the collection of Gap founders Doris and Donald Fisher—have invited some of the usual suspects to compete for their designs. Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Adjaye Associates, Snøhetta, and Foster + Partners are up for the SFMOMA job, and Diller Scofidio + Renfro leads a list of six firms for the L.A. museum. But the winning architects are likely to propose schemes that are sensitive to their urban habitat and deferential to the art”.

These are some things we already talked about, didn’t we? 😉

Collectors Museums? Not so good…

Many american museums are facing big financial troubles in the last period, but these problems doesn’t seem to affect private collectors aiming to promote their arts pieces through the creation of new exhibition buildings. Many of them, in fact, are no longer satisfied by loaing part of their works to public museums od temporary exhibitions around the world, and are trying to raise the cultural – and, most of all, the economic – value of their collection opening new sites! THE COLLECTOR, Mr. Eli Broad, in particular is about to land on the L.A. cultural landscape with an amazing and breathtaking architectural building.

But by who?

According to the Los Angeles Times on May, 25th “the competition was loaded from the start with high-profile firms. Of the six architects asked to present preliminary designs last week for the site on the corner of Grand Avenue and 2nd Street, four are winners of the Pritzker Prize, the field’s most prestigious award. They include Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and his firm Office for Metropolitan Architecture; Swiss pair Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron; French architect Christian de Portzamparc; and Japanese duo Ryue Nishizawa and Kazuyo Sejima, whose Tokyo firm, SANAA, is the winner of this year’s Pritzker. The other firms asked to take part are New York-based Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, designers of the 2006 Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, among other projects, and London’s Foreign Office Architects. According to a source with knowledge of the competition – who asked not to be named, citing the confidentiality of the process – a group of architectural advisors organized by Broad last Wednesday narrowed the six firms to two finalists. They are Koolhaas and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro. Broad has said he wants to move quickly on the museum; assuming he can win the needed site approvals without significant delays, he hopes to open its doors by 2012 or 2013″.

And so, here we come again: public museums all around the world are facing one of the worst financial crisis of their history but, as looking at private collectors, there’s going to be more wonderful archispots to be seen all around the world. So, the new future competitors for museums are going to be private collectors exhibition buildings???

And the question, of course, is: what do public museums want to do in order to face this new “attack”? This is going to be the most important question to be answered for museums willing not to close.

P.S. Personal Note: I’d suggest to Mr. Broad to pick up Scofidio&Renfro, love them! Here’s a pic of their Museu da Imagem e do Som in Rio de Janeiro.