Sunday, October 16, 2022

The Line Between Galleries and Museums is Blurring

Not so long ago I might have questioned the blurred lines between galleries and museums, but now i am not so sure. Some of us go to museums to learn more about a certain field but most of us go because we saw an ad for a special exhibition that might interest and/or entertain us. We can now find the same in some commercial art galleries.

In my last blog I quoted Michaela Boland from an article she wrote about Gagosian’s Gallery Exhibition of Aboriginal Paintings from Steve Martin’s collection, “Desert Painters of Australia will be one of Gagosian's regular non-selling exhibitions held as a way of influencing tastes, expanding art collecting and testing the market.” Why is that different from what museums do?

The Eden Gallery, a modern art gallery on Madison Avenue in New York published a whole blog on the subject. The author says there is a growing grey area between the Museum and gallery. She/he goes on to say, “An art museum will usually have a permanent private collection of artworks, which they have purchased or been gifted, that the museum will have on display on a long-term basis. An art museum will also display artworks that are on loan, either from other museums or by individuals. These artworks are usually part of short-term exhibits that will change several times a year.”

I cannot deny that the Museum has a permanent collection, and the art dealer does not (unless you count the dealer’s unsold inventory!). But it is not as if museums don’t sell from their collections. Museums traditionally have sold duplicates and works they feel are no longer worthy of there collection. In recent times they have been “permitted” to sell even major pieces to make ends meet. In the museum’s case they use an intermediary which is usually an auction house or maybe they “gift” the work to another institution.

My New York gallery was known, in particular, for its French 18th Century decorative arts and once in a while a piece was sold but then it was replaced so there was a rotation and clients learned from what they saw and what we could teach them. This Planisphere Clock (Pendule à planisphère) 1745-49 was sold by my Gallery to the Getty Museum.

Why is the museum different? They too rotate their collection for special exhibitions or for conservation considerations. The British Museum has a collection of 8 million objects where only 8,000 or 1% are on view at any one time.

My wife, a former curator, points out that the goals are different: the dealer seeks to find the best works and place them with new owners, while the museum curator seeks (or used to seek) to build on an institution’s representation of what they believe is the best artistic products (past and current) for future generations.

The museum rarely experiments to see what might catch on with the public. The contemporary gallery, however, will take chances that this different art might catch on. Major contemporary art galleries are becoming more adventurous and that seems to be attractive to curators who want to get away from positions that may seem rather static or not in line with their vision. It seems to me that there is a certain cross pollenating here.

When second in command, Sylvie Patry, failed to get the top job at Paris's Musée d'Orsay, she left to become artistic director at Kamel Mennour which has several galleries in Paris dealing in contemporary art. There Patry can continue to work with living artists. She is not alone as far as Museum curators “moving to the dark side” as one pundit put it and she is not the only one to go into the private sector.

In 2019 Pace Gallery lured Curator Mark Beasley away from the Hirshhorn Museum to head a new department called Pace Live. Beasley, was formerly curator of media and performance art at the Hirshhorn and was hired “to oversee the new multi-disciplinary program that includes music, dance, film, performance, and conversation. Pace Live aims to give artists, scholars, and critics the opportunity to experiment across a range of disciplines and find new ways to connect with the public.”

I don’t think that galleries are going to take anything away from museums, but the lines are becoming more blurred. For some art lovers it may be more exciting to visit a gallery where you can, at least, have the illusion of being able to acquire the work you are looking at which makes it a more exciting and participatory experience, today known as “experiential”.

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