Two whimsical ideas floated to the top of my brain as I read last Friday’s NYT article on corporate art collections and the subsequent curation of their work for museums to exhibit. While Glenn D. Lowry, director of the Museum of Modern Art, snubs his nose at the idea in favor of what he terms, “curatorial independence,” the president of the National Monuments Foundation, Rodney M. Cook Jr., touts the strategy as the epitome of the blending of American capitalism and culture. I don’t know about you, but I find both stances a little too monochromatic for my taste, a little too black and white if you get my drift. So I want to present a couple ideas that I think could just help bring some shades of gray into this scenario.
1) Corporations provide the art, while the museum controls the programming, marketing, and outreach. The Museum of Modern Art has its fair share of incredible art, but many other museums can’t say the same thing about their collections. With dwindling funds available to mount blockbuster exhibitions that in the past have provided museums with significant works of art not available in their collections, showing pieces from a corporate collection gives an institution a boost without the monumental loan fees. However, just as we find in the small print of our bank statements, a few conditions apply. The museum would retain control over the educational programming of the exhibition; write, produce, and approve the marketing pieces and web component; and develop and implement the outreach opportunities. This would, of course, come out of the museum’s budget, but would help dispel some of the concern that surrounds corporately-sponsored exhibitions. In the real world would this happen? If corporations really want to get their collections out there, then I’m sure savvy business people like those who work for Chase or Bank of America would surely be open to negotiating.
2) Share the wealth. The museum should not be the only place the community should be able to see the exhibition and learn about it. I would suggest that the corporation retain one or two pieces to mount in their buildings, with information attached that would direct clients to the museum to see the complete exhibition, take their children on a tour, or attend a lecture. The corporation would thus be showing its support of the non-profit arts organization and the museum’s visitor count would rises. Smiles all around.
In the NYT article, John Ravenal, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, emphasis a difference between the responsibilities of curators employed at corporations and those at museums. “The point of a corporate collection is to burnish the reputation of a corporation,” Ravenal said, and corporate curators are therefore “involved in that agenda.” Tsk, tsk. Since when did a museum not have an agenda? An agenda to open its doors to the community, to dissolve our ivory towers, to break from the academic and cultural snobbery of the institutions of before and push forward with forming partnerships with those who wish to apply their resources to present works of art for exhibiting and educational purposes. Whether or not the art in question is collected and maintained and organized by a for-profit corporation should not be the issue, as much as making sure a museum does not lose touch with its core agenda of education and outreach in the process.