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:

MORE AND MORE COMPETITION, NOW COMING FROM ANOTHER FRONT: PRIVATES!

“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

EVEN MORE CHALLENGING!

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?!?!?!?

THEY MUST FIND NEW STRATEGIES TO FACE THESE NEW COMPETITORS!

What’s the story, museums glory?

In this post I’d like to continue to talk about the issue of my previous post, i.e. the problem that museums must face to stay true to themselves and, at the same time, to understand the future trends of a globalized cultural environment and, if possible, to be even the catalyst of these new trends.

What about this sentence: “Whether it’s the product of artisans working in age-old traditions, or great geniuses breaking new ground, I think you get a broader perspective here, that is ever more important in the modern world.”

This comes from the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, Mr. Thomas P. Campell talking about his museum and what is the role of the collection in the modern era. Or better… the contemporary era!

In fact, according to the article I read, Campbell believes the Met should strengthen the relationships with contemporary art, because today this connection is not well perceived by the public.

“This engagement with contemporary art is part of what he describes as a “fundamental shift” in the presentation of the Met’s displays, helping to make them more accessible. “We assume a great deal of knowledge in our audience; I’m conscious that we need to do more for our general visitors. What I’m trying to do is to get the museum rethinking the visitor experience from the moment that people arrive at the museum: the signage they encounter, the bits of paper they pick up, all the way through to the way we deliver information in the galleries. And obviously that’s an enormous task. We’ve got a million square feet of gallery space and tens of thousands of objects on display, so nothing’s going to change overnight”.

So, here we’re talking about how to manage the collection directly on-site, updating the perception a visitor will have when he or she will enter the museum.

And here a very important sentence by Campbell, that could be referred to the issue emerged on my previous post: “The new art history that has shifted from the focus on connoisseurship and the priestly blessings of the top scholars to greater socio-political contextualisation; and the trend, coming out of Britain, for museums not just to speak to an elite upper-middle class. I think the London museums have really led the way in that”.

So, maybe the journalist who wrote the article I previously written about should at least listen this different perception of the “London Vague” by Mr Campbell, a perception with which I mostly agree.

I think that british museums are leading a trend that tries to bring museums to the 21st century and to the 22nd one too!

And that they could represent the real alternative to the American crisis of public and private museums, combining the need of a more complex and elaborated management strategy and the original public nature of European museums.

And last but not least, here’s an important question and an even more important answer.

Is the Met interested in becoming a world brand? “The Met was founded to be an international museum here in New York. I’m not interested in putting down bricks and mortar in Abu Dhabi. That said, we are a very out-facing institution.” That is, no thanks not that way, but maybe another way or with a less drastic formula…

See you soon then!

Temporary exhibitions VS collections? A fratricidal fight!

I’m writing this post because I read a very interesting article on The Independent last week about the decline of british museums!

“Over the last decade our galleries have become almost entirely devoted to mounting exhibitions, their general collections forgotten, their reserve holdings left untouched and the energy of their directors and keepers devoted to arranging and cataloguing temporary shows. Success today for a museum is not even told in the number of visitors crossing their portals, but the size of the crowds and the length of the queues at their would-be blockbusters. “Biggest ever,” “most comprehensive”, “revelatory” have become the sales pitch…”.

And the main cause is, of course, money.

The cuts in fundings forced many museums to use temporary exhibitions as the main means of raising funds.

“Read the strategy document and there will be investment in spruced up and additional exhibition facilities along with the coffee bar and bookstall expansion as the key items in raising money from commercial activities. The biggest future capital projects of both the British Museum and the V&A involve new galleries for temporary exhibitions”.

So we can consider this as another aspect of the crisis (it must be said that this trend started few years ago, it is not a new issue, but the actual situation undoubtedly worsened it).

And the second cause, according to the journalist, could be considered the tendency and the pressure to populism: the last governments especially imposed on public galleries the obligation to bring in a wider range of visitors as the price of freedom from entry fees.

And this need to raise the number of visitors had as a direct consequence the growth of the presence of travelling exhibitions in the London cultural offer.

So the article tries to focus the attention of the “institutional” decline of public museums, now almost completely devoted to bring people inside their rooms, no matter if they come to visit the collections or, as they tend to do in these years, to see the temporary exhibitions (more and more of them coming from other institutions).

Even if this statement is partly sharable, I don’t agree with this drastic opinion, because I believe that temporary exhibitions are necessary to museums just for the reasons the journalist reported and that the travelling ones could represent a source of opportunities, a way to see things that couldn’t be accessible without going in person to the different museums abroad.

As for everything: in medias stat virtus.

There should be a balance between the need to raise money and the main purpose of a museum (i.e. the promotion of its collection to the public) and that this is another of those crucial challenges that museums should face in the future if they want to survive!

P.S.: the comments on the article are quite interesting, take a look at them…

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? 😉

We’re dead, said the director!

Did you want an example of what I wrote in my past posts? Here it is!

As reported by Judith H. Dobrzynski’s blog (http://www.artsjournal.com/realcleararts/2010/06/fayetteville-closure.html) another museum is going to close, a museum that no more than three years ago was planning to expand… Doesn’t it sound familiar? This time it’s the Fayetteville Museum of Art, in North Carolina.

They closed last month with a $500,000 debt and no cash for the payroll.

As reported by the FayObserver (http://fayobserver.com/articles/2010/05/30/1000551?sac=Home): “The sudden closure leaves Fayetteville, with about 207,000 residents, as the only major city in North Carolina without an art museum, although smaller art galleries are open elsewhere in the city”.

And what is it the reason, according to the museums? “An unsuccessful fundraising campaign, along with politics, shaky museum finances and the recession ultimately led to the board’s May 19 announcement to close and dismiss the staff”.

But this situation is even stranger if we consider what they were planning in 2007: “Museum officials unveiled an ambitious plan to raise $15million to build a nine-story white tower at Festival Park and establish an endowment to help operate it. It had long been their desire to relocate to the city center – to a more visible location in a bigger building”.

But now, because of serious financial problems accumulated during these last three years, the museum finally closed…

This it’s going to be the end of more than one museum if no one will find an alternative to promote and make museums grow in a sustainable way…