Art museum independence challenged – The Guardian


In a scathing review of Damien Hirst’s ongoing Tate Modern retrospective, Hari Kunzru of The Guardian questions museum independence and whether, in the age of mega-wealthy patronage, these institutions are still the arbiters of taste and historical significance they once were.

Damien Hirst standing in front of his piece, 'I Am Become Death, Shatterer of Worlds' (2006, butterflies and household gloss paint on canvas).

As reported in The Guardian,

Nothing confers more value on an artwork than its selection for inclusion in a museum show. It is the definitive critical vote of confidence. This, of course, depends on the fiction that such decisions are made on pure, aesthetically disinterested grounds. As sophisticated investors enter the market and work out how the game is played, that particular story is wearing thin.

… Serota, like other museum directors, is expected to find money to run his institution from a variety of sources, including corporations and private individuals, and this makes museums vulnerable to pressure from those who wish to use them to confer value on their holdings. For many years, the Tate had a sponsorship relationship with UBS. One of the benefits received by the Swiss bank were regular Tate shows of works from its collection. Other major corporate collectors routinely negotiate similar deals.

In Asia, where private museums are increasingly filling the gap in public art infrastructure, the issue of curatorial independence may be even more problematic. These exhibition spaces, such as the Salsali Private Museum in Dubai and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art in New Delhi, often take their founders’ collections as the base for their permanent collection. While they provide for an arts education and exhibition platform that is open to the general public, their curatorial viewpoint may be unduly influenced by an economic conflict of interest. In China, it is even common for exhibition spaces to call themselves museums while still selling the works on display like a commercial gallery.

If these trends continue, could they undermine the authority of established contemporary art institutions? Tell us what you think by leaving a comment below.


Related Topics: promoting art, curatorial practice, art funding, museums

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Art museum independence challenged – The Guardian — 2 Comments

  1. Pingback: About the future of art presented in museums | Asian Art Blog

  2. Hi, just drop in to say hello….It’s actually a very arbitrary issue as often u found difficult to tell if independence means noncommercial or personal taste or none. Good example is White Rabbit museum in Sydney who claims to be independent in acquisition decision as well as the decision based on personal taste. While Art Gallery NSW whose trustees rely on a head of some art depart to acquire from or exhibit an artist using a lot of taxpayers money as a common practice. Where does the boundary draw for independence.

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