Ireland’s decision to appoint a commercial art gallery dealer as its commissioner for the Venice Biennale followed by his decision to chose an artist from his own gallery, highlights again the ethical challenges of close relationships between commercially driven art dealers and publicly funded institutions. Jenny Harper, director of the Christchurch Art Gallery, is perfectly clear where the chips fall. As she told The Art Newspaper in its September issue, “It is expensive and, as we know in New Zealand, often difficult for smaller countries to present at Venice. Clearly many parties – public, private and commercial – need to support a given artist, but such a blurring of the lines in this government-to-government invitation is disappointing. I believe the commissioner should be independent of all funding parties and am unimpressed with Ireland’s decision in this case.”
Other commentators do not draw such a hard line suggesting that the blurring of boundaries between dealers and public art museums is well advanced and we should just get used to it. That seams to be the way we are going here in New Zealand where such blurring can be seen in close, long-term relationships between public institutions and commercial dealers, to the benefit of both.