Friday, January 22, 2010

New Models

Marion Maneker points to an NPR story linking a couple of modern-day Barneses -- collectors who'd rather keep their collection together than gift it to a museum. Don Fisher and Eli Broad have both the money and the collections to endow new museums (or art schools, or whatever form they choose) , but they're departing from Barnes's approach by making long-term loans to existing museums rather than keeping their collections together at their own personally -- perhaps even idiosyncratically -- chosen venue.

How many masterpieces are major universal museums missing because their mortmain model doesn't let them mobilize the overwhelming strength of their collections' financial value to acquire these artworks when they're available? Partial title sales -- the Maroney Plan and Coaccession are the methods I know -- let a museum have its Monet and money, too. Once that financial strength ensure the existing collection's cultural value is maximized by museum operations -- exhibitions, research, conservation, administration, complemented by music, dance, theater and other arts in the venue -- there's nothing to stop museums from investing in more Monets at auction and turning around to raise more money with partial title sales. In fact, they could go to auction first and tend to operations later, if they're willing to let down public expectations of the kind of comprehensive experience a museum could and should offer.

Maybe existing museums will just let the new collectors' models supersede them. Coaccession is available to any incorporated collecting institution that's open to the public. With it, the financial value of the artworks (or antiquities or specimens or ...) creates the operating endowment to maximize their cultural value. Artworks can support the arts. It's a shame the arts are suffering now in the midst of the great plenty vouchsafed by prior generations of donors -- and held by current generations of prospective donors.

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