Buying influence at Tate?

July 29 2014

Image of Buying influence at Tate?

Picture: Amazon

The Grumpy Art Historian has reviewed Georgina Adam's new book 'Big Bucks' (which I mentioned earlier), and highlights the practice of buying access to Tate's collection committee (which I didn't know about):

[...] members of Tate's collection committee each donate at least £10,000 a year - or, to put it less politely, buy their way on. Though she doesn't draw it out in this particular case, that gives opportunity to promote purchase of artists that the committee members collect, boosting their value. And it skews the Tate's collection towards art cherished by rich collectors who are not necessarily the sharpest connoisseurs (though some of course are the sharpest connoisseurs; my point is simply that connoisseurship is not proven by a donation of ten grand).

The GAH then cites Adam's quote from an anonymous US museum director:

"The problem of collectors sitting on museum boards and trying to use their position to validate their own holdings is ubiquitous, and is being exacerbated by the new class of trustees, who today are investor-collectors ... They will try to use their position to either influence the purchases of the institution, in line with their own collection, or have their own works included in museum exhibitions. You cannot imagine how cajoled and caressed I have sometimes been to take a painting into a show!" (p. 172)

I've never been convinced that it's the role of public institutions to spend public money on contemporary art. Taste in the contemporary world is so led by hype and fashion, and determing now what posterity will see as important is a bit like picking lottery numbers. Sometimes this is taken to extremes, like the Arts Council's scheme to provide 0% loans for buyers of contemporary art (sub-prime art anyone?). Is it better to wait for a period of time, and then be sure that we're spending public money wisely, in the same way that there is a period of 50 years before export controls kick in to protect items of national heritage? This is not to say that museums shouldn't accept gifts of works; as the GAH says, the cachet of having a work of art in, say, Tate is such that the donations would doubtless flood in anyway, from artists and agents.

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.