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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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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