Suddenly they’re everywhere: private art museums have become the ultimate status symbols.
LET’S SAY YOUR ART COLLECTION is appraised at $500 million. Christie’s can, perhaps, piece together a series of byzantine deals to guarantee you at least $350 million at auction. Sotheby’s will probably guarantee around the same amount. Whoever you choose, the taxman will take his cut, and you may end up with considerably less cash than the sticker price – not to mention those extraordinarily empty walls and floors.
You might choose, like Karlheinz and Agnes Essl last year, to donate your collection to a major museum (the Essls gave the Albertina in Vienna 1,323 works valued at €90 million). The tax credits will likely be of less value than the auction profits, but you’ll be able to bask in the glow of knowing you’ve contributed to the preservation of our cultural heritage.
Although, looking a bit closer, does the museum actually have the space to display many of those works? And will it promise not to sell them? Consider negotiating an agreement like the one Donald and Doris Fisher, founders of Gap, made with SFMOMA: the pieces of their collection are on loan to the museum until 2116, and, among other conditions, the museum agrees to display the pieces all together at least once every decade over the next century.
Still, that’s quite a burden on your heirs, and you would be right to wonder what happens if the curators of the future don’t see eye-to-eye with your collectorial vision (witness the recent controversy over selling pieces from the “unsellable” collection of the Berkshire Museum).
Given this context, it’s easy to understand why so many significant art collectors today are creating their own museums and foundations. More than a dozen major private art spaces are opening this year or are planned for the next few years. That’s in addition to the raft of openings over the past decade that includes headliners like the Broad and the Marciano in Los Angeles, the Soumaya in Mexico City, the Barberini in Potsdam, the Yuz in Shanghai and the Aïshti in Beirut, among many others.
Drawing the most fanfare so far this year is Muzeum Susch, in a village near St Moritz. Founded by Polish real estate mogul Grażyna Kulczyk, it aims to merge the display of the collection with ongoing artist residencies, breathing new life into the former brewery and monastery and offering, as she says, “a disruptive outlook for the future”.
This cross-pollination of a collection and contemporary art practice is also the aim of Qiao Zhibing’s wonderfully quixotic Tank Shanghai, which opened in five former oil tanks in March on the West Bund, not far from the forthcoming Pompidou outpost, as well as the planned GES-2 (v-a-c.ru) in Moscow – a $300 million project by Leonid Mikhelson – and the Peter Marino Art Foundation from the eponymous architect in the Hamptons, which he told a local paper will “make the Frick look shabby”.
This sort of ego boost is inescapable from many of the projects and marks a return to chest-thumping ostentation that has been largely absent since the financial crisis. It might be possible, in fact, to pinpoint the moment when conspicuous consumption made a confident return: on 19 May 2017, Japanese fashion entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa announced his purchase of a $110.5m Basquiat painting with a post on his Instagram account. Maezawa, who had previously purchased another record-breaking Basquiat picture, is also planning to build his own museum, in Chiba, where he grew up.
The golden shadow cast by a world-class collection can benefit brands too, and it’s very much of the moment that three of Europe’s most influential private art foundations bear the name of fashion and jewellery brands: the Louis Vuitton and Cartier, both in Paris, and the Prada in Milan.
Part of their success – and they have all three quickly garnered praise from across the art world – is a serious dedication to the art, refreshingly free from corporate meddling. The Beyeler Foundation in Switzerland is the gold standard for serious art historical engagement, with every exhibition a must-see, and this ambition is reflected in other institutions like the Boros in Berlin, the Brandhorst in Munich, the Saatchi in London, the Long in Shanghai, the eccentric MONA in Tasmania, the Norval and semi-public Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town – as well as the forthcoming space from François Pinault in Paris, which will join with his Venice galleries to display one of the world’s great contemporary art collections.
Other spaces prefer not to emphasise travelling exhibitions, but rather to craft displays focused on the collector’s philosophy, which can be incredibly compelling. Time capsules like the Wallace in London, the Jacquemart-André in Paris and the Morgan and Frick in Manhattan are being joined by contemporary collections of all sizes, from the Odunpazari Modern Museum in Turkey, set to open in September with the collection of Erol Tabanca, to Berlin’s new Fluentum, centred on time-related art, as well as the cache of collections in Miami – Rubell, de la Cruz, Margulies, Cisneros Fontanals, the upcoming Berkowitz – and the almost incomprehensibly large Glenstone, which expanded last year with a 18,592sq m edifice on its 93ha campus outside Washington DC.
Tax credits from national governments make these private institutions financially feasible – especially generous in places like Germany, France, the US and China – but the daily running expenses are not insignificant. Very few are self-funding and already museums and foundations across the globe are starting to close after recent optimistic beginnings. Yet it remains a glamorous and edifying platform in comparison to freeports – plus, a lockbox is not why you started collecting in the first place, and art as a commodity shows remarkable variation in preserving value. So what, in the end, should you do with your $500 million collection? If only there were a simple answer.
NetJets, The Magazine, 2019