How to get loans for an exhibition

October 28 2015

Image of How to get loans for an exhibition

Picture: NYT

In the New York Times, Ronni Baer of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, explains how she has secured so many masterpieces for her exhibition “Class Distinctions: Dutch Painting in the Age of Rembrandt and Vermeer”:

“You can’t just have a gimmick, ‘paintings with animals,’ and expect to get their star works,” said Ronni Baer, senior curator of European paintings at the museum. Punctilious lenders, she added, “need to know you’re doing something serious to advance scholarship and not just another masterpiece show.” [...]

Unlike shows that focus on a single artist, or a genre like still lifes, the exhibition here showcases many hands, styles and subjects. As museumgoers travel from regal apartments to back-alley hovels, examining faces, places and objects rendered in keen detail, they experience the 17th-century equivalent of a social documentary.

“It is an excellent concept, yet one that has not been tried before,” said Norbert Middelkoop, paintings curator at the Amsterdam Museum, which provided two works ordinarily used to teach history and hierarchy to schoolchildren. “I think this will really strike a chord with American society.”

Ms. Baer, who has a doctorate in art history from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, persuaded the hard-to-crack Rijksmuseum, the premier art institution in the Netherlands, to contribute works by greats like Pieter de Hooch and Jan Steen and by others that had never been shown in America. She has brought two of Vermeer’s 36 known works here — a great “get” for a city that has been bereft of its lone Vermeer, “The Concert,” since it was stolen in 1990 from the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. [...]

To obtain an illuminating — and laudatory — canvas from the Amsterdam Museum, by an unknown artist, showing the rich distributing bread, peat and other alms to what they called the “deserving poor,” Ms. Baer arranged for her museum to share the cost of restoring a painting that depicts a town hall.

Impressive stuff. But it is a little disappointing that the process of securing laons has become so tortuous, with institutions needing to effectively be bribed with this or that quid pro quo.

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