Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

Brandeis' proposed art rental and the school's enablers

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A stunning story broke just before the long weekend: Brandeis has hired Sotheby’s to explore options for renting out art in the Rose Art Museum’s collection. [Image.]

The Globe story, by Geoff Edgers, is problematic and lacking. It refers to the proposed pay-for-use transaction as a “loan” when, as Brandeis’ own student newspaper knew, it would be a rental. (The helpful Christopher Knight provided the Globe with some guidance regarding the definition of ‘rental’ and of ‘loan.’) To make matters worse, the Globe apparently failed to talk to — let alone quote — anyone who had a non-positive perspective on the rental. Oof.

Then again, maybe it’s not a stunning story at all. Over the last half-decade or so, several museums have rented out art from their permanent collection: The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Phillips Collection and the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego have all rented parts of their collections to Las Vegas casinos. (Some of those transactions were constructed in a less direct manner than others.) The Association of Art Museum Directors looked the other way each time. As a result, AAMD has effectively created an environment in which art museums are free to treat their art collections the same way Netflix treats a DVD. No wonder Brandeis didn’t think twice about exploring rentals: Art museums do it and their industry association shrugs at it.

Shame on MFAB, the Phillips and MCASD, Brandeis University’s enablers. (Two of the three directors who rented out their art still run those museums.)

But equal shame to AAMD, which has repeatedly and characteristically failed to act thoughtfully or responsibly. AAMD has permitted the Brandeis-Rose situation to reach this unfortunate new low. The Association of Art Museum Directors has its next meeting on June 7-8. It’s long past time for the group to establish rules that make such rentals impermissible. (Demonstrate that you want to lead and not just back-slap, AAMD prez-in-waiting Kaywin Feldman.) AAMD should also condemn the possibility of Brandeis renting out the Rose’s art.

Related: I’ve written extensively about this issue, including why it is improper and unethical for museums to rent out collections they hold in the public trust. Examples: From the Boston Globe’s op-ed page. MCASD’s mistake: Part one, part two.

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  1. Adam Green says:

    I’m still a bit unclear as to why you are so oppossed to an institution renting out their artwork to other institutions. Perhaps you could elaborate.

  2. Douglas Graebner says:

    I don’t think this is to “other institutions”. Also, we do have a auction house involved, which just makes things even sketchier.

  3. Douglas Graebner says:

    Also, wasn’t some artwork damaged while on loan to a casino? I think one of the MFA’s Monets.

  4. kirsten says:

    If it makes a difference, the Bellagio Gallery gives free or deeply discounted access to UNLV students and faculty who hold seminars in the space after hours to study the art on rental. As Hugh Davies comments in your link, there are no other opportunities to experience art firsthand in Las Vegas. How far should a museum go limiting access to art in order to protect it? Is it really so endangering for MCASD’s art to travel 300 miles to an exhibition space that meets museum standards? The for-profit element may seem unsavory, but that’s the art world.

  5. Tyler Green - Modern Art Notes says:

    Kirsten: The casino space in Vegas does not meet AAM standards.

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