Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Going public

The relationship between private collectors and public art museums has been in the international news. Until recently art museums had taken a stand-offish attitude to collectors when dealing with anything beyond their willingness to lend and give. The suggestion that private collectors could themselves curate exhibitions from their collections for public art museums or be deeply involved with the funding, display, administration or even the content of publications has been a no-go. 

So the City Gallery’s relationship with collector David Teplitsky and his team in the development of roundabout, an exhibition of his private collection, appears to be breaking new ground, in New Zealand anyway. David Tepltisky is being treated by the City Gallery much more like an institutional colleague or partner than a private individual. While the public and Wellington rate payers may benefit from David Teplitsky’s generosity in helping out with freight, administration, catalogue production and curation (the City Gallery will meet local costs), it might well come as a surprise to other art museums who up to now probably considered this sort of arrangement with private art owners off limits. 

Over the years international art institutions have developed a set of ethical rules to distance themselves from what might be seen as undue influence from private collectors. For example,

• The publically funded institution retains complete control over the selection and curation of the exhibition

• The publically funded institution cannot accept any payment in the form of cash or services from the private collector 

• The publically funded institution determines the contents and authors of any publication.

• All dealings with the collector will be transparent

Of course we’re talking about a profession that once regarded sponsorship as a threat to its independence, so it does have the ability to rewrite the rules as the context changes. 

In its relationship with David Teplitsky the City Gallery is recalibrating how the private and public relate in the development and promotion of exhibitions in New Zealand. But there is little wider discussion of whether this change is a natural evolution or a important redrawing of how public and private relate. There is a similar silence on exhibitions provided to art museums by art dealers. Whether other art museums will throw up their hands in horror or follow suit is anybody’s guess.

MIKE WESTON COMMENTS: Mike Westen has asked for his comment on collectors and the roundabout collection to be removed. 3 October 2010