Friday, October 02, 2009

The Miami Model and Beyond

Yesterday in his interview with New Museum (NuMu) director Lisa Phillips, Tyler Green asked a rather pointed question regarding an upcoming exhibition at NuMu featuring work from a private collection (for a sense of how that news is being received, see this post at James Wagner's [and don't miss the comments]):
Why should a non-profit's resources be used to promote an individual, his collecting acumen and his collection? If a collector wants his collection seen, there are obviously other, better ways for him or her to do that, such as the so-called 'Miami model.'
It was a tough interview, but I have to say I felt Ms. Phillips was impressively open about the issue and seemed happy to invite the dialog about the museum's interest in exploring what curators and the public can learn from private collectors. Most impressively, she asked the following:
And why is [the] Miami model better?
For those who don't know, the "Miami model" is a private museum run by a collector and often featuring mainly the works from their collection. Examples would be the Rubell Family Collection or The Margulies Collection at the Warehouse. Both are located in (or about) the Wynwood District of Miami. Each December, when the art world descends upon Miami for the art fairs, scores of enthusiasts flock to see the exhibitions at these premier collections. Having visited during other times, I can say the enthusiasm for them continues most of the year as well (although during the art fair week, they're particularly packed). Regarding this model, Lisa went on to say:
I think Museums would disagree that the private museum model is better than collectors collaborating with local institutions. But it doesn't have to be either /or, but both /and.
The heart of the controversy that Tyler and James are writing about, if it's not clear, is whether a museum with NuMu's original mandate should avoid collectors-focused exhibitions even more than other institutions. Again, I think Lisa's response to that was as open and thought-provoking as it could have been, but I'll reserve any opinion on whether she's right until after I see the exhibition. It might just convince me.

But back to the "Miami model." As it happens, Bambino and I attended an opening reception last night at a New York institution that's supported by and often exhibits work from a private collection, the FLAG Art Foundation. You've seen me write about shows at the FLAG before (I'm a big fan), but last night I attended wondering whether Lisa was right. Whether there was something lacking in the Miami model that would lead Museums to wonder whether "the private museum model is better than collectors collaborating with local institutions."

I should point out that the FLAG doesn't exactly follow the Miami model. The private collection isn't named, per se, in the institution's title or its press releases (although the collector behind it has been written about frequently as such), and the collector is someone who has never flipped or resold any of the work in the collection. Important about that is how the permanence of the collection signifies a genuine interest in a dialog with the public that isn't complicated by marketing. Again, I'm a big fan.

Last night, however, we attended an exhibition there so exquisite that I began to wonder if Lisa were mistaken. Sometimes the private museum can exceed anything you'd expect in a non-private institution. "Floating a Boulder: Works by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Jim Hodges" is a positively gorgeous show. Most of the work in it was borrowed from other collections, but there's no question that the collector's personal interest in these artists and, more importantly, the importance of dialog in contemporary art is reflected in how this show came to be.

I'm running out of ways of not saying who the collector is, so I'll just note that it's Glenn Fuhrman, who surprised a few art world insiders with this decision to open a space, including this early response by then-journalist-but-now-co-director of Art Basel, Marc Spiegler. As I noted in response to Marc's sense that collectors playing curator was tricky territory, Glenn, however, is renown for not only having studied art history but also regularly hosting panel discussions with important artists. In other words, the exchange of ideas in response to art is something he's long been engaged in.

That interest is particularly well matched to "Floating a Boulder." Not only is the dialog between Gonzalez-Torres and Hodges an illuminating one, but the work by both these artists relies on public interaction to fulfill the artists' intentions. From the FLAG press release:
In 1993, Gonzalez-Torres reflects, “I need public interaction. Without the public these works are nothing. I need the public to complete the work. I ask the public to help me out, to take responsibility, to become part of my work, to join in.”[1] Almost 10 years later, Hodges echoes: “I don’t think that I am ever not engaged with that consideration. This dialogue or this interaction with a viewer, what’s perceived, what’s being experience, what’s being responded too…Actually, the viewer completes the work.”[2]

[1] Hoban, Stephen, ed. Felix Gonzalez-Torres: America, p. 35. New York: Guggenheim Foundation, 2007.

[2] Berry, Ian. “You Ornament the Earth: A Dialogue with JIM HODGES by Ian Berry.” Jim Hodges, p. 6. Saratoga Springs: Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2003.
I can't imagine a more perfect pairing of exhibition and space. Something this intimately personal and perfect would be impossible to imagine in an non-private institution.

But more than that, this show is a total gem. We missed the go-go dancer (apparently it's not correct to have one at an opening, something I hadn't known about "Untitled" Gog-Go Dancing Platform). But I did, finally, get to see one of the most heartbreakingly human artworks ever created IMO, "Untitled" (Perfect Lovers) and snapped the image above with my iPhone.

If it's not clear already, I can't recommend this exhibition enough.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Something this intimately personal and perfect would be impossible to imagine in an non-private institution."

Why would this be impossible?


10/02/2009 09:37:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"Impossible to imagine" (which is highly subjective, of course) because it would require a museum letting a curator reflect more than just objective selections in an exhibition. Perhaps, as a parting gift I could imagine a museum doing this for a beloved curator, but it would seem to cut across the institution's mission in most spaces, no?

10/02/2009 09:55:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"letting a curator reflect more than just objective selections"
Maybe I'm not getting what you mean. If there were such a thing as truly objective selections (in the sense of being not subjective selections), we wouldn't really need curators. Aren't they supposed to bring their subjective view to the scholarship, history, discourse, etc. ? How could it be otherwise?


10/02/2009 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I understand your point, anono, but let me see if I can flesh out the differences to my mind.

What I mean is in part defined by my wondering what museum would let a curator include in a show a selection of work the curator owned? If the answer is none, then already we're talking about a different kind of exhibition. It's the HIGHLY personal association with the work in the show that contributes to how perfect it seems. Knowing something about the collector, his interest in dialog, his collecting philosophy, etc. etc. Perhaps it's only because I'm aware of those things that this exhibition has extra resonance with me, but, again, I cannot imagine how something so exquisite could play itself out in an public museum.

10/02/2009 10:21:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I get it. But most curators aren't wealthy enough to own significant numbers of "important" (museum-worthy) artworks, so that analogy doesn't quite work.

And when you say exquisite, you mean more than beautiful, you're talking about all the interrelationships between the collector and the work, besides those among the works in the show.


10/02/2009 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"important" isn't always determined by size. I know curators whose private collections are most definitely museum worthy even though most of it is small (think: the Vogels, as well)

Yes, by exquisite, I mean in the sense of "marked by nice discrimination, deep sensitivity, or subtle understanding" and also beautiful

10/02/2009 10:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Hmmm.. When it comes the point when it's not the artists communicating anymore, but the curator, or the collector, I can't help but feel suspicious.


10/02/2009 12:35:00 PM  
Anonymous Larry said...

To Cedric's hmmmm. . . .

I can't blame you. And I don't think Miami is an isolated example. Are museums simply running out of exhibition ideas based around the works of art themselves? It seems that lately there has been an upswing in museum exhibitions devoted to the collections of so-and-so, or even to dealer so-and-so (Ambroise Vollard - sp? - at the Met recently). Will we eventually see an exhibit of art sold by Edward Winkleman?

When a well-heeled collector shows his/her collection publicly, it's hard for me to escape the feeling that they're showing off their personal trophies as a gesture of noblesse oblige to the less financially fortunate, and the art takes second billing. But I have to admit too that the distinction sometimes becomes porous to me; for example, while it may have started as a trophy, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid has taken on the status of a museum exhibiting its own remarkable permanent collection.

10/02/2009 01:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Jim said...

As an aside, is a counterpart to the "Miami Model" the "Saatchi Model" where the collection/museum is primarily symbiotically tied to increasing the visibility and value of artists they have collected - rather than a coherent vision or sensibility?

10/02/2009 02:17:00 PM  
Anonymous sah said...

i am the curator of a private collection. i used to be a curator at a non profit. the two worlds are worlds apart.

this private collection is comprised of things 'my' collector loves, many of them the result of hard fought back and forth with me, or with others who have real stakes in the conversation. the exhibitions i curate with our collection as a base (we do not have a space ourselves, but i work with institutions across the us and europe) are, as a result, born from real, urgent, hard fought ideas that reflect highly subjective interests and passions. there are no committees. no fundraising appeals. no grant writing. no curatorial arabesques to get permission from arid, petulant and incompetent administrators, funders, 'arguments' that are not born out of the art itself - in other words, we do what we want to, and do it because we want to. because we really want to.

the art tempo shows in venice, flag, and other enterprises of this kind are possible ONLY because they come from private, and therefore unfettered and unapologetic positions. this does not always mean they are BETTER shows - just more sincere, in my experience.

some of mine have failed miserably. others soar.

I could be a curator at a fancy-pants museum or non-profit. i've come close. it would be good for my career. but why would I give up the ability to run naked at full speed through an immense field of art and ideas, in order to be on the invite lists of exclusive after parties but have the chance to do only one self-indulgent show every 3 years?

i spend a lot of time with artists and with the 2,500 works in our collection.

and while i have done about 15 shows in the past four years, i haven't been in a program planning meeting since late 2004.

the anxiety attacks have stopped too.


10/02/2009 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

his private collection is comprised of things 'my' collector loves, many of them the result of hard fought back and forth with me, or with others who have real stakes in the conversation

So this rich guy has to fight with you to buy what he wants? Odd. And he pays you to fight with him? Odder still.

10/02/2009 10:34:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Thanks for the comment sah, it does indeed sound fun to operate in that environment. I can say that the curators of private collections I know do seem to be very happy overall. They certainly seem less burdened by politics than curators at institutions do.

When it comes the point when it's not the artists communicating anymore, but the curator, or the collector, I can't help but feel suspicious.

I feel suspicious even when it's the artists communicating, so I don't blame you. :-)

Still, I think the exhibition at FLAG is first and foremost a dialog between two artists who are/were very interested in a dialog with the public. Outside of that, the average viewer need not stop to even consider the other things that struck me. I brought up my personal response to the show because it seemed to counter what Lisa implied and that was on my mind.

I would also note that the work in the FLAG show is not only from a wide range of impressive private collections (The Hoffman collection, the Ganek's, the Goldberg's, the Phelan's, the August's, the Halle's, Rosen, etc. etc.) but also from a very impressive number of museums (MoMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Cleveland Museum of Art, etc. etc.) making this exhibition anything but about the private collection of one person. It's unquestionably about the artists.

10/03/2009 11:40:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Having seen "Floating a Boulder" on Thursday night, I agree wholeheartedly with Ed that it is "perfect," "intimate," "exquisite." The collector, whatever his role in putting it together, deserves credit and thanks for making possible a show that is truly about the art, and one of the best I've seen in a long time.

This show probably wouldn't have worked in a museum, but I would suggest that an important reason for this lies in the nature of the art -- so much of Gonzalez-Torres' work takes on its shape and meaning because of where and how it's installed. I think the installation here was perfect for the space, and that it's the space that accounts for our intimate relation with the art.

On FLAG's website (, it appears that for this show, FLAG has increased the hours that it's open to the public to four days a week, nicely consistent with the artists' wanting the viewer to complete the work.

Ed, Thanks for explaining why
I missed the showgirls!


10/03/2009 02:48:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Floating a Boulder" was curated by an artist, by Jim Hodges. That's the main difference, no one (including the best curator) understands art better than a great artist. Artists (well some of them at least) have different INTENTIONS than curators, as do some collectors. And Glenn is a great collector in the sense that he steps back and lets the art work do its job. It's about the work, not about the collector.

"Floating a Boulder" is simply the most beautiful, smart and engaging show I have seen in quite some time.

Forget about this discourse and just go SEE the show - not to be missed.

10/04/2009 04:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is my understanding as well that Hodges curated the show; I didn't post that information since there is no curator listed on the site, as least as yet.

I think Hodges' curating probably accounts for the perfect pairings -- apparently he knew Gonzalez-Torres well -- as well as the intimacy and emotional intensity.

The show is glorious.


10/04/2009 07:44:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

Well, which is better: the Frick or the Met? The Barnes or MoMA? The Gardner or Boston MFA? Historically, both models have worked, and both have their drawbacks.

But it's a bit of a straw-man argument. Many of our public museums (Guggenheim, Whitney, etc.) were started by collector/founders whose private taste shaped the future direction of the institution. Our big, comprehensive museums were founded by Robber Barons whose main motivation may have been to promote their "collecting acumen," and their collection.

It comes down to this: U.S. museums don't have government funding the way European ones do. They're highly dependent on collectors/donors (and, yes, gift shops). I'm tired of aesthetes who complain how "tacky" this is.

10/05/2009 07:40:00 AM  
Blogger markcreegan said...

Wow, I have got to get my butt up there see this show! Thanks for the heads up! A duet of two of my fav artists- dont get any better than that!

10/05/2009 08:05:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...


Not sure if you're Lisa Phillips or not, but it doesn't matter. As I noted above I think the argument that Lisa Phillips made with regards to NuMu's interest here were impressive. In the end, though, it will all come down to how good the exhibition is to my mind. I know there are others who feel strongly that even the idea of the exhibition is a mistake...that it should never even occur to those in charge of publicly funded spaces to promote the work of a private collection, but I'm willing to wait to see whether the exhibition is so good (and supports the argument that a nonprofit institution's audience can indeed learn something that fits within the institution's mission from a private collection) that I don't care how it came to be. I'm willing to wait to see whether it's so good that whose collection it's from is immaterial to me.

That will be the measure for me.

But if all I can think of while going through it is "Wow, collector so-and-so must have a lot of money," then it will fail for me and, to be honest, be all that much sadder for having taken place at NuMu.

10/05/2009 08:26:00 AM  

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