Corporate Turnkey Exhibitions : Open Thread
There are of course, some who object to this practice:
Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, said he would be unlikely to accept a show put together by a corporation in part because it supplants the role of the museum’s curators. “The reason the museum exists is to make exhibitions on its own,” he said. “You have people on staff who consider themselves to be historians with highly nuanced receptors, and it’s not healthy to duplicate that by hiring out to somebody else.”And there's the perception that despite presenting quality shows that they could never afford to assemble on their own, the museums are not getting anywhere near as much out of the arrangements as the corporations are:
Personally, I'm not sure how I feel about this trend. Some of the institutions that have signed-on are run by directors I have an immense amount of respect for, curatorially and administratively, meaning I trust their vision and I trust they're doing what they need to in the current climate to keep their museums and all their programming alive and serving their communities. Having said that, I do wonder where this might lead for the institutions' curators. Do they wind up just being assistants to the corporations' curators?
What museums need to be conscious of, art experts say, is creating the impression that these exhibitions enhance the value of corporate collections that might one day come to market. “A museum has to think very seriously about taking those shows,” said John Ravenal, president of the Association of Art Museum Curators and curator of modern and contemporary art at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. “The museum, by virtue of its stature and its public role, gives legitimacy or confers a certain kind of validity to these collections when it exhibits them.
“If the collection isn’t a promised gift to the museum, then there is the potential for the museum to be used to unwittingly increase the value of a collection, whether its individual or corporate.”If a corporation is contributing funds to a museum that shows its collection, “then it looks as if the museum’s exhibition program is for sale,” Mr. Ravenal said. “They don’t want to look like they’re selling their reputation.”
The curators at corporations and museums may be equally qualified in terms of expertise, art experts say, but their responsibilities differ. “The point of a corporate collection is to burnish the reputation of a corporation,” Mr. Ravenal said, and corporate curators are therefore “involved in that agenda.”Museums claim they have found ways to navigate these tricky waters:
As for concerns that a bank would impose its curatorial tastes on the museum, [Lora S.] Urbanelli [director] of the Montclair Art Museum said Bank of America selected the works in the [“The Wyeths: Three Generations,” an exhibition of work by N. C., Andrew and Jamie Wyeth] show, but the museum had some say in their installation. “We were able to filter it through our own curatorial staff,” she said. “I don’t feel like we made any kind of compromises at all. If anything, they provided us with a wonderful opportunity — helped us to do something we would not have been able to do ourselves.”I can imagine, as a curator knowing that needed budget cuts may eventually extend to your department, if not your job, that objecting too strongly to a turnkey exhibition that might generate just enough money to keep the exhibition afloat for another year is a dilemma of biblical proportions. Then again, there is a great deal to be said for being professional about such matters:
To be sure, importing a corporate-organized show might be expected to create tension between the curators at the company and those at the host museum. But Sergio Bessa, the director of curatorial and education programs at the Bronx Museum, said that his institution’s collaboration with JPMorgan “was very collegial,” and that the show gave the museum access to blue-chip artists.As someone hoping to sell work to many corporate collections, I am predisposed to thinking kindly of them, but I can honestly say that corporations' curators are indeed among the most knowledgeable and passionate curators out there, and most of the ones I know are delightful and fun to talk with about art in general. The biggest question for me in all this is one of disclosure. I do want to know when the exhibition I'm viewing is curated from a corporation's collection. What difference that might make to how I fell about it would vary of course, but I don't think it's a small matter. Fortunately most such exhibitions have no shortage of branding or sponsorship announcement opportunities for the lending corporation.
“We saw an opportunity instead of a takeover,” he said. “I actually have quite a lot of respect for their vision. I was amazed: How did Chase get paintings by this painter and that painter?”
There was one thing noted in the Times article that I was intrigued by:
And Bank of America has lately gone further still, creating a roster of ready-made shows that it provides to museums at a nominal cost to them— essentially turnkey exhibitions. [emphasis mine]At first I read that to mean the borrowing museums had to pay a small fee to receive the turnkey exhibitions. Curious about how much that might be, I search for info but only found the following. Bank of America's press release about the program states that there is no charge to museums:
Through its unique loaned exhibition program, the bank offers its art collection to museums throughout the country, free of charge, so they may expand their offerings for the benefit of their communities. [emphasis mine]Perhaps the nominal cost is simply the museum's operating costs, meaning the corporation provides the work (including shipping and catalog materials, etc.) but they don't pay the museums overhead during the exhibition. I'm not sure entirely. Does any one know the details here?
Consider this an open thread on the corporate turnkey exhibition trend.