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US Museums splurge

Daniel Grant, With the Economy Improving, Museums Go on a Buying Spree, New York Observer, 28 January 2015

In 2014, the Getty splurged on Manet’s ‘Spring’ and the Guggenheim set its sights on Latin America

Museum directors and curators are, by nature, hoarders. But the recession reined in the urge to splurge, or at least the ability to, at many cultural institutions across the country. Now, an improving economy and rising stock market appear to be fueling a buying spree at American museums.

“Donors have recovered their sense of financial well-being,” said Michael Botwinick, former director of the Brooklyn Museum and currently director of the Hudson River Museum in Yonkers, N.Y. “Museum endowments are healthier,” he said, and “donors and museum directors feel freer with money than they had just a few years back.”

What’s interesting is not only that they are buying again, but exactly what it is they’re buying. Most of the pent-up spending attempts to address something of a provincial bias, or a snobbery about what is fine art, in past collecting. Institutions are focusing on adding more photography, more decorative arts, some video art, and more work by black, Islamic, Latin American, Middle-Eastern and Asian artists.

Given the raging art boom, many artworks are still out of reach, of course. According to Susan Taylor, director of the New Orleans Museum of Art and president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, the high prices of artworks at auction, “especially in the area of Modern and Contemporary art, has precluded a number of institutions from participating” in the market. (Pricey masterpieces are still donated, of course, but rarely bought by museums.) But when institutions do buy, they’re being more public about it, announcing their new treasures—or their efforts to right past curatorial wrongs. Once hush-hush, the purchases are increasingly being trumpeted.

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