12 November 2011

No Surprise, Masterpieces Follow the Money: On Crystal Bridges and the Demise of Public Institutions

Today, it seems, is the opening of the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, brain child of Walmart heiress Alice Walton. This morning, npr ran this segment on the way various denizens of the East and West coast art world establishments have gotten their noses out of joint about Walton's various acquisitions and near-acquisitions. Now, I have no great fondness for the unimaginably wealthy, especially when they have inherited and not actually "earned" their wealth, and even more especially when whomever did "earn" the family fortune did so more or less brutally on the exploitation of workers and destruction of local communities and ecologies. So, no love for Alice on my part. That said, it is difficult to have much sympathy for the art-world types who forget that many of the big established museums and galleries have been in bed with Alice-like characters for ever. As Rebecca Solnit wrote in this incisive piece in The Nation on Crystal Bridges several years ago: "Art patronage has always been a kind of money-laundering, a pretty public face for fortunes made in uglier ways." Just so.

Solnit's essay was occasioned by Alice's acquisition from The New York Public Library of Asher Durand's 1849 painting Kindred Spirits. A good question, one that, as far as I can tell, none of the people yacking about Alice actually articulates, is just why it is that our public institutions are in such dire financial straits that they feel compelled to place artistic treasures on the market in the first place. (To be clear the npr correspondent never poses the question either!) Perhaps the poverty of the NYPL and various colleges and universities is the converse of the concentration of income and wealth in the very highest reaches of the American population?

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Blogger Stan B. said...

Truly nauseating- on a level not unlike the whole Joe Paterno Affair.

There's a guy called David Icke who believes that many of today's major players and politicos are actually soulless reptilian shape shifters. It sounds a little less crazy each and every day.

14 November, 2011 01:19  

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