Busybodies, Hoarders and Egomaniacs
They were free from the guilt that would have come from selling off their patrimony, but they struggled and essentially let life pass them by so their kids could inherit this stuff.
As I recall, the kids sold off a ton of it.
A Culture of Hoarders
The sanctimony of the Association of Art Museum Directors is pompous, patronizing and disingenuous. For many of them, their basic business is hoarding:
- The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York houses more than 2 million art objects. The vast majority of these will never be seen.
- The Met’s collection is dwarfed by the 7 million pieces at the British Museum in London, much of it the treasures spirited out of unsophisticated, unsuspecting countries by crafty adventurers and archaeologists. The collection of Egyptian artifacts alone totals 110,000—100,000 of which will never see the light of day.
- A number of years ago, I was in London and paid a call on the new Tate Modern, a magnificent facility on the banks of the Thames. Alas, the permanent collection is a bunch of second-rate work by first-rate artists. Yet all over the world, great art is hoarded and hidden away from public view in museum basements that the ego-driven curators and greedy directors are unwilling to deaccession.
- This is key: A work of art on the wall of a private home or a business enterprise—where it gives continual joy to all that behold and love it—is far more in keeping with the intent of the artist than relegating it to the black hole of a museum basement for eternity. It was painted to give pleasure, not to give bragging rights to curators and museum directors because, “The collection in my cellar is bigger than yours.”
- Saturday night, I had dinner with good friends who told me of a mutual friend in the South, not particularly affluent, who bought himself a 1931 Rolls-Royce. “What are you going to do with it?” they asked. “I’m going to own it,” he said with a smile.
The Barnes Mess
A major brouhaha in Philadelphia is the fate of the Barnes Foundation—the greatest hoard of privately held modern art in the world—some 2,500 objects with an estimated value of $6 billion that include 180 Renoirs, 69 Cézannes, 44 Picassos and 18 Rousseaux. This private museum is flat broke, the result of poor investments and lawsuits caused by onerous “indentures” decreed by the nutty founder, Albert C. Barnes, who was killed in an automobile accident in 1951. Nothing can be sold from the collection, Barnes decreed, and none of the exhibits can be rearranged. Barnes’ will has finally been broken, $150 million has been raised and this extraordinary collection is slated to be moved to flashy new digs on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway a few hundred yards from the massive Philadelphia Museum of Art.