In the last year, paintings by Cezanne, Pollock and de Kooning have each sold for more than $200 million. With such skyrocketing auction prices, can museums here in North Texas even compete? Friday night at the Kimbell Art Museum, the directors of Fort Worth’s three major art museums gave a glimpse of the challenges – and benefits – of acquiring works in a hot art market.
When the Fort Worth Modern opened in 2002, several works were purchased to mark the occasion. Today, the museum wouldn’t be able to afford any of them, said Director Marla Price. One example: the museum’s popular Andy Warhol Fright Wig portrait.
“That was acquired from the Andy Warhol Foundation, I won’t tell you exactly, but it was significantly less than a million dollars and a smaller version just sold for $35 million. So that’s the kind of inflation that we talk about.”
The Amon Carter Museum has done some smart shopping, picking up significant works by John Singer Sargent and Mary Cassatt. But there’s a limit, says Director Andrew Walker.
“We can participate, at a level somewhere between $3 and $7 million. But once you get beyond that it becomes much more challenging.”
The demand for modern and contemporary art HAS had one benefit: Kimbell director Eric Lee says fewer collectors are focused on the kinds of Old Masters the Kimbell collects. Recently the museum made waves in the art world by acquiring a famous 17th century work by the artist Nicolas Poussin. Lee didn’t say how much the museum paid, but he did point out that a balloon dog sculpture by contemporary artist Jeff Koons recently sold for twice as much.
“The Poussin has stood the test of time. We know that it is going to be important 100 years from now. I frankly think there are great bargains to be had among Old Master paintings today. Because we’re not buying for today, we’re not buying what’s in fashion now, we’re buying for the next 100 years and beyond.”
The State of the Arts conversation Friday was the first time all three museum directors were in a public panel together. Art&Seek partners with the Kimbell Art Museum for the series in Fort Worth and with the Dallas Museum of Art, the series’ founder, in Dallas. If you missed Friday night’s discussion, don’t worry: The Kimbell videotaped it, and we will share it when they’ve made it available. And look for more State of the Arts in Dallas and Fort Worth this fall.
Here are more excerpts from the evening:
Marla Price, on joint programming.…”In the past, we had some programs that I was very fond of that we all shared. I would be very interested in bringing some of those kinds of thing back. We took a type of art – portrait or still life, whatever – and we had a 30-minute talk at each museum looking at the same idea. And it was very good. We did a joint exhibition with the Amon Carter, that was a folk art exhibit, years ago. And that was a success.”
Andrew Walker, on the three museums’ outdoor space: One of the directions for the museum’s outdoor space is to think not only about shade, or people spending time outside, but also, what would it mean to have ambling paths that would extend to the Kimbell or the Modern or throughout the entire district? What would it mean to take Will Rogers and make it a pedestrian space occasionally, so that it became an opportunity for the community to gather? The question myself and my staff and my board have been asking is, what does it mean to create a public space? Is it something you just design? Or is it something where you engage the public who use the space in order to lead you to some kind of the design? We’re just at the begining of that, but I think it’s a worthy question to continue to ask. And to continue to build bridges across all the institutions, not only with Marla and Eric, but also the Science and History Museum, The Cowgirl Museum.”
[The panelists also mentioned Day in the District, and the Kimbell’s annual outdoor festival, this year on June 18, as opportunities to engage large crowds.]
On museums’ responsibilities to local artists:
Marla Price: “We actively collect the artists in this community and in Texas. So that’s a difference. In the last 10 years, we’ve collected the work of 22 Texas artists, it’s about 20 percent of what we’ve acquired. It’s a mission we take very seriously.”
Andrew Walker: “In the last five years or so, the museum has done it in two different ways. One, to be more aware historically of the role Texas art has played nationally. We look at it regionally, but we always understand it from an institutional perspective in its national impact. We’ve had tremendous support from the collecting community in North Texas who are deeply devoted to the history of Texas art. And then more recently, we’ve activated the space in our atrium. We’ve been working with artists who have a relationship with Texas who work on a large scale. One of those artists is Sedrick Huckaby, who was our first living artist working in the atrium space. He’s kind of become a mascot at the Amon Carter. We’ve done several engagements with him. He’s been one of our fellows. So he’s used the collection historically, which is one of the great benefits of the Amon Carter – deep historical collection – to motivate and generate his contemporary work today. And we’ve also acquired his works on paper – we don’t do this in painting – but in works on paper, we’ve acquired several works by him, including his series called “The 99 Percent” which is about 101 lithographs that are now on view at the museum in a show called “Identity”. Because we feel this commitment, especially in works on paper, because we have that tradition within that media, as well as photography, to collect what is happening not only in a larger contemporary way, but with particular attention to what’s happening locally.”
Eric Lee on negotiating loans and planning exhibitions ….”It’s very difficult to do, impossible to do, exhibitions from Egypt today. The Kimbell has had great Egyptian exhibitions over the past 20 years, but it’s not going to be doable any time soon. So yes, in certain areas of art history, it’s very very difficult currently to do exhibitions.
“In terms of borrowing works from Europe, we’re able to do that, but we’re not able to borrow from Russia. There’s this issue between Russia and the United States that has resulted in this moratorium from the Russian government on all loans to America, so we’re not able to borrow anything from Russia. The Bernini exhibition we had a few years ago had just about every Bernini terra cotta in the world in the show, except for one in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which was too fragile, and then the ones in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, and that’s because of this moratorium.
“It’s actually easier for us to borrow works from Europe today than from most American musuems. That’s because there are more freight flights to Europe than most cities in America. So we have to have works of art trucked from Detroit or Boston. If we are borrowing something from London, they are put on the plane at Heathrow and get off the plane at DFW.”
Eric Lee, on job prospects for curators….”In the future, there’s going to be a major shortage of curators of art made before the 20th century. I’m already seeing that graduate schools are not producing art historians and curators of earlier material like they once did. Yet every major museum in the United States is going to have a need for curators from these earlier periods. So if you are considering grad school in art history, and if you want to become a curator, I do think the best path is to get a masters, if not a phd, in art history, but I would encourage you to focus on something before the 20th century.
“Just as the art market has been focused more on modern and contemporary, I think graduate schools and students are more interested in contemporary than earlier material. I know when I was in grad school in the early ’90s, and this was the case from the ’70s through the mid-’90s, so many people were focused on Impressionism and 19th century French. Now it’s contemporary. But we are always going to have a need for curators of earlier material.”