Tuesday, May 25, 2010

When Museums say no

Art-museum officials love to talk of the important works they are given by donors—the Mary Cassatt painting, the Alexander Calder mobile, the collection of Edward Weston photographs—and that talk (they well know) encourages similar donations. Cultivating gifts is a large part of being a museum curator or director. But not all donations are equally welcome, and another part of the job is figuring out how to say "no, thank you."
Read this very cool article by Daniel Grant in the Wall Street Journal here.

I've had that experience with rather interesting results. For example, a while back I had a major art collector who was retiring down to Florida and she had quite a bit of artwork that she wished to donate to museums. Among her collection were several early Sandra Ramos' works, including possibly the largest Sandra Ramos painting in the United States and a very early piece.

Since Ramos is already in the collection of MoMa in New York, Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Thyssen-Bornemisza in Austria, and in quite a few University museums in the US, and considering how some people are always bitching about how some US museums are not "diverse" enough in its representation of women and ethnicities, I thought that a major gift like this would be a shoo-in for the Hirshhorn.

And thus I was very surprised when the Hirshhorn declined it very quickly, in spite of (in my opinion) the artists' pedigree and the museum's lack of any depth in the particular field that Ramos' works represents.

"Pecera" (Fish Tank) by Sandra Ramos
Oil on Distressed Muslim, circa 1997
65 x 76.75 inches (165 x 195 cm)

From there I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, thinking that VMFA would be a good logical alternative. I could have gone to the University of Virginia, which has a most excellent Cuban art collection, but I wanted to place her work on a new collection, as Ramos is already in the UVA collection.

When VMFA also declined it rather quickly, I was a little floored as well (and I'm even more floored now that I've learned from the WSJ article that they accept about 2/3 of all gifts offered), but this time I decided to go south quite a bit further and go for the easy out, and currently the piece is in the process of being acquired by the Miami Art Museum, which of course, demographically has an interest in this genre of work, so that was truly an easy pick.

But meanwhile both the Hirshhorn and VMFA could have added a significant work by a truly blue chip Cuban artist, whose presence has been cemented in the current difficult times of the brutal Cuban dictatorship as one of the few Cuban artists in the vanguard of questioning the stark realities of Cuban life, and whose stature, once the Castro brothers strangle hold on Cuba is broken, is almost certain to rise even higher.

Their loss.

Project Create tomorrow