Museum directors speak out resoundingly in favour of exhibiting private collections

In response to The New Museum's current exhibition


New York

At a symposium at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York in March, museum directors spoke out resoundingly in favour of exhibiting private collections. Panellists included Lisa Phillips of the New Museum, Iwona Blazwick of London’s Whitechapel Gallery and Tom Eccles of the Center for Curatorial Studies (CCS) at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson.

The discussion was organised by the New Museum in part to counter criticism of its current exhibition “Skin Fruit” (until 6 June), which showcases the Athens-based collection of industrialist Dakis Joannou, a long-time trustee of the institution. The show, selected by artist Jeff Koons, is the first in a series of private collection shows called “The Imaginary Museum”.

According to Blazwick: “I do think there are criteria we need to follow as institutions if we are going to work with a private collection.” In June the Whitechapel will present the first of four displays drawn from the Dimitris Daskalopoulos Collection in Greece. Blazwick outlined standards for exhibiting private collections that include having an understanding that collectors will not speculate or misuse the relationship with the institution. She said that collectors such as Daskalopoulos should sign contracts with stipulations against selling exhibited works for a period of five years.

Phillips said: “In our case, there is a written agreement with Mr Joannou confirming the provision of our ethics policy that no trustee may lend a work to the museum if they intend to sell it. If we were exhibiting another private collection, we would require a similar written commitment.”

In June the CCS Bard Hessel Museum of Art is showing the collection of Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg. “Martin is a board member of the CCS and as part of this project, he has provided funding for a course with curator Matthew Higgs,” said Eccles. Asked if he thought this could be perceived as a conflict of interest, Eccles said: “A conflict can arise...You need to be transparent in your actions.”

Whitney curator Francesco Bonami, also on the panel, said: “It’s about the collector’s integrity. We had work on exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago that was picked up and sold by Sotheby’s and we couldn’t do anything about it, because it was owned by a major donor to the museum and we didn’t want to sue.”

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as ‘Directors say OK to collectors’ shows'