Shoe Smudges Streaked Across the White Walls

In anticipation of the second volume of the BMW Art Guide by Independent Collectors, we are looking back at the first edition. Mixed in with the portraits of the collections, we had 10 short texts, so-called Shorties, which we will be republishing here from time to time.

In this Shorty Christiane Meixner will discuss the differences between visiting a public institution and a publicly accessible private collection. She will also reveal some of the reasons why private collectors might be more inclined to guide visitors through their collection themselves.

“If you’ve ever seen the Tate Modern in London after a normal weekend, you have an idea of what its popularity entails: people eating on benches in the Turbine Hall, empty bags of chips littering the floors, and shoe smudges streaked across the white walls. The Tate is a public institution and does not charge admission to the permanent collection; and it can afford the mess: every morning, the cleaning crew comes and restores the status quo.

One can hardly request the same upkeep from a private collector. This is especially true for those who allow the public into their private venues—with its furniture, few security guards, delicate wood floors, and other particulars to consider. It’s easy to understand why private collections are more restrictive. This might include registering in advance; being guided through rooms in small groups; or the prohibition of any eating, drinking, or smoking—all no-brainers. And not being allowed to touch the objects, of course, is a rule that all public museums also hold.

What is noticeable is the occasional exclusion of children, which a few private collectors enforce. But any private collection that restricts visitors to those over the age of twelve should also not lend works to museums, which have no age restrictions at all. To such collectors one would like to recommend the Menil Collection, in Texas, whose founders believed strongly in the aesthetic power of art and wanted as many people—even the youngest among us—to share in it.”


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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