Tyler Green
Art-focused Journalism by Tyler Green

Tyler Green Modern Art Notes

A season of shame at LACMA, AIC

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Sadly, this season two of America’s most prominent museums will install fluff shows, exhibitions which seek to glorify a private collector and his/her acquisitiveness rather than independently investigate the history of art and culture.

As I briefly noted yesterday, LACMA will be showing about 85 objects from the collection of Lynda and Stewart Resnick, the couple who made a sizable donation to the building of the museum’s latest Renzo Piano big-box. The Art Institute is showing what it calls a “public presentation of [a] private treasure,” selections from the collection of art dealer Richard Gray and his wife Mary Lackritz Gray. The museum says that the exhibition “demonstrates that Chicago remains the home of ambitious collections of refined taste.”

As I’ve previously noted, these exhibitions are improper. Art museums and their supporters receive substantial tax benefits because art museums care for the world’s treasures and because we all benefit from the research and education they offer. They do not receive privileged status under the tax code so that they can serve as hagiographers for their trustees. (Lynda Resnick is a LACMA trustee.)

In the last year pressure to end these shows has increased: The New York Times exposed the practice in a front-page story that embarrassed both the New Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and at its most recent meeting the Association of Art Museum Directors discussed increasing concerns that these exhibitions were “extra benefits” made available to trustees and donors. Many museum leaders are concerned that the practice could draw the attention of federal or state authorities.

The AIC has done this kind of show before: In 2007 it showed a private collection of Islamic ceramics. LACMA is also a repeat offender: Its 2008 installation of selections from Cheech Marin’s art collection drew objections from both me and LAT art critic Christopher Knight, who also noted that the show was particularly objectionable because LACMA receives substantial public funds. The Marin exhibition also provided the rare example of a curator protesting the practice by keeping his name off the show. These shows are an insult to viewers — the little people who should apparently be grateful to see the shopping lists of the rich and well-connected —  but they are a far greater insult to the professional scholars who work at art museums.

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  1. Mike Murray says:

    Amen! Thanks for telling it like it is.

  2. I agree completely. There’s hardly a museum in America — including our taxpayer-funded National Gallery — that doesn’t do the same, and it’s shameful. One solution: Make sure that boards of public museums include substantial numbers of artists, scholars and other informed members of the public, to police for such practices.

  3. kelly says:

    The AIC has been doing similar exhibitions of private collections since the 1960s. Read Richard Feigen’s “Tales from the Art Crypt” for more information. The example from that book that’s relevant is the Mary and Leigh Block collection, which was shown at the AIC while Leigh was president of its board. Some of their collection ended up in the AIC, but a lot of it ended up elsewhere.

  4. Gerald says:

    The Resnicks agreed to give $10 million worth of art from their collection to the museum. I imagine the value of the collection is much larger than that, but at least a part of the collection being exhibited will remain with the museum.

  5. Lin says:

    Guess I am out of step. I think it is fine for museums to do these shows the public sees art normally locked away. If a museum puts on a bunch of shows like this and they are subpar, their reputation suffers. I think that some how you presume that showing the private collection always increases it’s value. If I think back to original shows of Walter Chrysler and Armand Hammer their collections were savaged by the critics and it took them a long time to recover. What I have not heard is whether the Resnicks or Grays art is good or garbage. Also saying to a private collector we can only show your art if you give us some — isn’t that called extortion which is far worse than an ethical lapse. My view point is the simple guy who wants to see as much art as I can. Enjoy your blog by the way

  6. […] about it. So has the Chicago Tribune similarly dug into the Art Institute of Chicago’s disgraceful fluff/vanity show? Nope. In a related story, the paper’s only art reporter also works, er, the cocktails […]

  7. […] Recent fluff shows at the Art Institute of Chicago and LACMA. « The latest sign that the Smithsonian appropriation is not a GOP target Blog Home […]

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