Controversy over New Museum's plans to show trustee’s collection
Exhibition raises a potential conflict-of-interest between private collectors and public institutions
By Linda Yablonsky. Museums, Issue 207, November 2009
Published online: 11 November 2009
new york. In late September, the New Museum in New York announced an exhibition consisting solely of works that Greek construction tycoon Dakis Joannou—one of the museum’s trustees—has amassed for his Deste Foundation in Athens. Set to open in March 2010, the show will take up the museum’s entire Bowery building, to be curated by US artist Jeff Koons, whose work Joannou started collecting in the 1980s.
The exhibition is the first in the venue’s programme “The Imaginary Museum”, a series of private-collection shows that sounded alarms in the art blogosphere. Observers sharply questioned the ethics of the collaboration with Joannou, a trustee who owns more work by Koons than any other single collector. The New Museum’s director of special exhibitions, Massimiliano Gioni, has also organised shows at the Deste Foundation and borrowed works for his own shows.
It raises a potential conflict-of-interest question that has come up before in regard to such shows. Last year, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened its Broad Contemporary Art Museum with works from the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Foundation, which also supplied its own curator to make the selection. Meanwhile Eli Broad made it clear that he would not promise his namesake museum any gifts of art for its collection.
New Museum director Lisa Phillips says the debate over such issues is one good reason to pursue the show. “We want to push the conversation forward,” she says, adding that the museum is assuming all costs associated with the Joannou exhibition and that her board has a policy against trustees lending a work of art if they are actively planning to sell it.
In the Association of American Art Museum Directors guidelines, a reputable collector is defined as someone “whose involvement enhances the museum’s programme” and who has proven a “sustained commitment to the museum”.
Chief curator Richard Flood says that “The Imaginary Museum” concept preceded the Joannou show, and that the invitation to Koons came directly from the museum, not the collector.
UPDATE: In the original article printed in The Art Newspaper (November, 2009, p11) we wrote that the New Museum board, "has a policy against borrowing works from collectors likely to profit from their exhibition". We would like to clarify its policy. The New Museum board "has a policy against trustees lending a work of art if they are actively planning to sell it".
"The Imaginary Museum: Dakis Joannou Collection" runs from 3 March to 6 June
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