The best art in museums is not always on the wall. You can see it in the architecture, the people visiting, how the works of art relate to their surroundings, the shadows and the art of intrigue behind the scenes. Museums big and small are special places. Art works in their own right. All framed by the museum walls that for a short time take us away from our everyday world.
Museums have always been touching stones of society reflecting current and past culture, trends and tastes. They are constantly changing. This is especially true today. They face many challenges in staying viable and attracting a new audience. All while riding a wave of new tensions behind the scenes.
The average age of museum goers is 60. The admissions to museums have been in decline in recent years. Attracting a new younger audience is key for their survival. New food venues and shops have been added to help. However, the biggest challenge is the rise of the private collector and associated sky rocking price of art. Museums find it hard to compete for permanent collection art.
It used to be that the head curator ruled the path the museum would take. Taking a lead in the selection of exhibits and purchases of art pieces. It’s now essential for museums to attract billionaire board members who have their own private collections. Ones that can be exhibited and who’s influence can attract other private collections. These museum board “whales” have changed the power structure and created intrigue behind the scenes. The curator often taking a secondary role to them.
Recently the head curator, Helen Molesworth, at MOCA in LA had to leave over what was called artistic differences with the board. She felt the museum was “too white,” not reflecting enough of the vibrant art from people of color and immigrants. The “whales” on the board main interest was their private collections, the work they wanted to see exhibited. These internal battles and vying for power are playing out throughout the art museum world.
The painter Mark Rothko, always a rebel, perhaps made the ultimate statements against undue influence in art. He was commissioned to produce a series of painting for a wealthy oil man in Texas who promised a museum dedicated to his work. Rothko fought constantly with the architect about how the building should look and what the painting should be. Rothko, in the end, produced a series of all black paintings. A statement indeed.
The art museum will continue to emerge. Becoming special places that take you away, provide a calmness and make you think. You hope they will continue to reflect the past, the present and all sides of society. At the same time, freeing your thinking to what’s possible.
The museums survival rests on doing all this and being free of too much influence from special interests. I only hope for many walks in museums, being able to enjoy what they give back and the independence of a Rothko in their being.
“I’ve seen beautiful art on the side of buildings. I’ve seen beautiful art in museums. Beautiful art is everywhere.” John Mellencamp
Sources: Top Ten Museum Trends by Kawasi Hop Agyeman, Commerce vs. Curator by Scott Reyburn, Challenges Facing Museums by Verner Johnson and Meditation and Modern Art Meet at Rothko Chapel by Pat Dowell