boston mfa for sale
Post #208 • February 6, 2004, 8:42 AM • 8 Comments
A reader writes:
As I think you follow arts funding issues relatively closely, do you have an opinion on the Boston MFA "renting" its Monet pieces to that Las Vegas gallery? I don't see the problem. I can't envision what the possible detriment to the artistic community might be. I'm hoping you might have an insight I don't.
On the face of it, I didn't see a problem with this either. Instead of letting those paintings molder in the basement, the MFA lends them out to where people can see them, and makes some cash in the process. Of course, every time you move a work of art you put it at risk. But if Vegas people understand one thing, it's how to assess and minimize risk, right? And as an institution that handles huge sums of money in the middle of the desert, I imagine that the Bellagio has the security and climate control thing down better than some of our local museums.
Then I thought, wait a minute, the MFA is a public institution. Those are my paintings, and yours as well. Should the MFA be involved in profiteering off of public property?
It turns out that there's an Association of Art Museum Directors that publishes a set of guidelines that address the lending of art. Christopher Knight for the LA Times (via Modern Art Notes - oh, you want a link? Sorry, this is the LA Times):
"Professional Practices in Art Museums"... offers this guideline: "In any decision about a proposed loan from the collection, the intellectual merit and educational benefits, as well as the protection of the work of art, must be the primary considerations, rather than possible finanacial gain." ...
In three out of four criteria, the Monet show comes up short. MFA director Malcom Rogers airily waves away critics of the Vegas rental as "priggish." But the deal in fact makes hash of a judicious museum standard. The show is without intellectual merit, is educationally corrupt and puts a fast-buck premium on financial gain. ...
The sorry excuse for an exhibition catalog contributes zero knowledge to the field. A 52-page, $15 souveneir - which a store employee described to me over the phone as being "like a children's book" - it features a few vacant paragraphs of introduction and one glossy reproduction of each painting.
I wonder if the Association has any guidelines that distinguish fiscal responsibility from mere financial gain. I'm going with Knight on this one, but I sympathize with the enormous pressures that the museums are under to function in a businesslike way. The MFA is a special case, as well; director Malcolm Rogers tells Knight in the article that it is entirely privately funded. (Does that contradict Knight's assertion that the public owns those paintings? The MFA site does not describe its governance or funding mechanisms.) But the ultimate concern is not public versus private. Those guidelines are sensible, aimed at maximizing the lifetime of artwork and the immaterial benefits it can provide. To flout them does a disservice to both the present and future art-viewing public.