Important Museums and Private Collections

Besides giving an insight into more than 200 private yet publicly accessible collections worldwide, our authors also want to provide some background information about the art of collecting. Therefore we included concise texts about collecting, so called Shorties, in the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors.

In the following Shorty, Christiane Meixner talks about the relationship between established museums and private art collections in the USA. Read below for details on how many important institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum or the Harvard Art Museums found their beginning in private art collections.

Why does an art collector give away his or her art? Or hand it to a museum that in return names a room or sometimes even an entire section of a building after the donor? This is the reason the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will be closed for three years beginning in 2013: the construction of new galleries for the Doris and Donald Fisher Collection, a private collection of over 1 000 works of modern and contemporary art. The Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge owe their outstanding artworks primarily to private collectors who have passed their treasures on to the university. And in the spring of 2013, Leonard A. Lauder announced that he will donate seventy-eight paintings and sculptures to the Metropolitan Museum of Art: masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and Juan Gris. The cosmetics tycoon explains the decision for the gift—worth an estimated one billion dollars—with a simple argument: it is a gift “to the people who live and work in New York.” That’s a statement that the metropolis certainly likes to hear. Although many collectors live in New York, the number of private showrooms accessible to the public is slim, particularly when contrasted to Miami and its many public-private museums. Only during art fairs, such as the Armory Show, via its VIP program, is one able to catch a glimpse how many treasures are hidden in the lofts and apartments of New York City. Discretion is appreciated, of course, and collectors maintain longstanding relations with museums—relationships, in many cases, now in the second generation. The willingness on the part of private collectors to share with public institutions has its roots in the history of American collecting: nearly all the important museums in New York began as private collections. But here, too, change is afoot: “It is much better to give twenty works to a small museum than to place 300 artworks in an extension of the MoMA or the Metropolitan Museum,” says collector Aby Rosen.

Christiane Meixner has been working as a freelance art critic since 1986 for a variety of magazines and newspapers. Since 2008 she has also served as a freelance editor of Der Tagesspiegel’s ”Art & Market“ section.

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