The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco is currently featuring one of those big, glitzy rental shows that make a museum’s own curators wonder, “Why am I here?” You know the type: FAMSF sent France a check and the Musee d’Orsay crated up a bunch of impressionist paintings and shipped ‘em over. It’s an expensive pop: People will come for the show but you’ve done nothing to increase public engagement with the museum’s collection, the institution’s take on art history and so on. FAMSF’s professionals are turned into unpackers. The museum becomes an architectural landmark with turnstiles. It trains its audience to only show up for expensive rental shows. (Also: On the occasion of the show, FAMSF launched a new website. On Tuesday morning, it was down. Perhaps the museum can rent a website from France too?)
Meanwhile, on Friday Carol Vogel published a Meadows Museum press release (with some spicy Rob Storr for good measure) in which the museum announced a new engagement with the Prado: The Prado will loan (not rent) paintings to the Meadows. The two museums will collaborate on research and public programs. [Image: El Greco, Pentecost (c. 1600), debuts at the Meadows on Sept. 12.]
Vogel missed the bigger story: These kinds of arrangements are on the rise, so much so that they’re the emergent trend. The Frick exchanges loans (not rentals) of paintings with the Norton Simon. The Norton Simon exchanges loans with the National Gallery of Art. The Museo Nazionale Romano is loaning the Indianapolis Museum of Art several ancient sculptures.
These little loans give regular museum visitors the opportunity to see something new and fantastic within the context of a collection they already know. They deepen the relationship between audience and museum by presenting the new in the context of the familiar — and vice versa. Here’s hoping we see more of these precious exchanges.
UPDATE: Oops, I missed two.