Thursday 25 October 2007

Private / public

Over the last few weeks, there's been an interesting little flurry on the American blogs, on the topic of publicly-funded institutions building shows out of the holdings of private collectors.

At the beginning of this week, Richard Lacayo blogged about the National Gallery of Art, Washington, exhibition "The Art of the American Snapshot, 1888-1978".

Lacayo liked the show, but observed that it would have been nice to mix these vernacular photos in with the work of Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander (etc). This wasn't possible because the show was drawn from a single person's collection - Robert E. Jackson.

About six weeks ago Tyler Green lambasted the NGA over the show, for fluffing collectors. Green felt that (1) the NGA shouldn't do vanity exhibitions and (2) the NGA effectively abdicated responsibility for the show - curating the collector, not the collection.

Green weighed in again yesterday; Lacayo replied that he was okay with shows built from private collections, more iffy about permanent installations of private collections; ModernKicks posted a thoughtful consideration; Regina Hackett doesn't agree with anyone.

Of course, I understand that when an institution shows a private collection they're increasing its worth (well - if they're any good at what they do they should be). But New Zealand's gallery system would be sunk without private lenders: very few institutions can afford to collect comprehensively anymore, and moreover, I have the feeling young curators are losing interest in working on / with permanent collection (to whit, this article) .

Overall, the question seems to less about the content, more about who gets to 'own' the presentation. Is it okay for a curator to make a show from a single (private) collection, not okay for the collector to do it? What about taking a whole show from a dealer gallery? Or consistently sourcing exhibitions from the same small group of suppliers? When do networks become cabals?

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