Private museums and their success

A dilemma? 

Sin City, May 2014

Success

Private museums of collectors are a success. The brand new museum Voorlinden heading for sure for huge amounts of visitors. But Hans Melchers' Museum More with his figurative collection is an example of this success. Who visits this museum in the tiny village of Gorssel will be surprised by the quality of the building and the collection, whether you like figurative painting or not. The welcome at reception is pleasant. The halls have a professional look, the lighting is excellent, the texts are well designed and legible. It is a pleasant place to be and there is a good restaurant.
A beautiful and simple website.
What else do you wish?
Even if you do not like figurative art you want to go back there.
Beyond all expectation the museum received 100,000 visitors in less than a year.

At moments of uncertainty this should evoke uncomfortable feelings in the management of medium-sized public museums, for whom it is a hell of a job keeping the museums alive. It is also grist to the mill of those who think museums should be commercial enterprises.
Nevertheless: The More museum is successful, which is caused by the collection, the building and the professional look of the museum. The money plays no role because of Melchers' fortune and the museum collection has a remarkable history. It tells the story of the bankrupt entrepreneur Dirk Scheringa, from whose collection Melchers bought 1000 works. This has certainly contributed to the success.
But why do all the other museums of the same size permanently need  millions  public money and Museum More not?
 
Food for discussion

This dilemma is food for an interesting discussion, which should be held heavier. The critical way many people speak about art- and cultural institutions kept afloat with taxpayers' money has become 'mainstream'. That is peculiar. Somehow there is hardly any  attention for the fact that businesses and agriculture is fed with billions of tax money, while the effect is hardly to tracable.
Who is surprised by the relatively small amounts of money which is spent to the arts, should be flabbergasted by what's going on here.

Art and cultural institutions in general and museums in particular are part of the necessary social infrastructure, which our society keeps informed, alert and creative. When this is neglected our  society impoverishes. The source dries up. That cannot be proved with hard data. Journalist Bas Heijne talked about it during the opening of the new theater season.
He spoke striking words. I quote a shortening of the most striking statements here:

"The mantra that art must prove itself to the outside world in numbers, in economic interest (...,) has become dominant. (There) the language of figures prevails - and really not just because of the sponsor which requires proof of social responsibility. No, that language has become dominant because it is so understandable, so tempting, because it relieves us of the obligation to express ourselves in that other, difficult, stammering language. (...) The language of emotion, understanding, of the subtle meanings. "

The market

Then finally another point of attention, and so I come to the imagination of Las Vegas on the top of this article: when museums become normal enterprises and are given to the mercy of the market, their future becomes uncertain. In 2005, we visited the Guggenheim-Hermitage Museum in Las Vegas with a delegation from the Dutch museum world. We were impressed by the quality of what was offered. Magnificent spaces, a nice reception and a superb collection. Driven by casino money. Many schools from the surrounding area came to visit, referring to the social function of the museum. When the director questioned about the danger ofthis commercial dependency, she replied reassuringly: "Well, we manage."

The museum no longer exists. Of course there are other initiatives witnessed this article. Of course Sin City what it is, first and foremost a place for fun and adventure. But the issues mentioned above are  substance for the reflection on how to deal with art and culture.

Comments here.

September 10th 2016