When I woke up tonight — yes, tonight, that’s multiple timezone flying for you — I saw there was an internet dust up in a couple of places over something I said about the “History of the Snapshot” show yesterday at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. ( I forget, was that yesterday in the U.S., or yesterday where I am?) Fair points, so let me say something about the shows that museums give to individual collectors — “Snapshot”, is one of those — typically the ones they’re courting in the hope of gaining the collector’s collection some day.
To start with what looks like Tyler Green’s distaste for collector shows generally. In short, I’m ok with them. To begin with, in a world in which museums enlarge their collections mostly through gifts, not purchases — that would be this world — a certain amount of benefactor husbandry is simply what museums must do. This seems to me an acceptable compromise — and not just a compromise; I’ll get to that in a minute — as opposed to say the museums that repeatedly give over whole permanent galleries to collectors who want to preserve their paintings in a replica of their original homes.
This is something like the point that Neal Benezra, the director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, was making to me a few weeks ago, when he warned against the simpler idea of separate collector galleries of even the more vanilla kind. I just came from Texas and another look at the more-than-borderline camp galleries at the Dallas Museum of Art given over to the collection of Wendy and Emory Reves, in which the good lady’s very slippers are still positioned just so at the foot of her bed. To put it mildly, I love their their dining table settings but, uh, I find it hard to look at the art. Bigger museums than the Dallas have done the same, including the Met in New York.
Here’s point two. Collector shows, as opposed to permanent collector galleries, are not necessarily a bad thing for museum visitors. I won’t even get into the value of historical collector shows. Actually, I will — the exhibitions I caught up with at the Met in the last year devoted to the dealer/collector Ambroise Vollard and to the Clark brothers were fascinating. And if anybody in Italy wants to mount a show devoted to Cardinal Del Monte, the great early patron of Caravaggio, I’m on the next plane, no matter how bad the dollar is. (Don’t ask.)
But contemporary collector shows are also part of the story. There were a couple of great exhibitions, both before and after his death, devoted to the photo collector Sam Wagstaff, Robert Mapplethorpe’s mentor in all ways. (The first one, as I recall, curated by Wagstaff himself.) If there was ever a show devoted to the photo collection of the onetime New York dealer Daniel Wolf, before his holdings disappeared into the Getty, I missed it and I’m sorry I did. I saw a bit of what was left on a weekend visit with him in Colorado 20 years ago. And speaking of San Francisco, I didn’t get to the big show they devoted a few years ago to the Anderson collection, which of course they would dearly love to inherit, but my bad.
The question over at Modern Kicks is whether I was right to assume that the curators of the National Gallery “Snapshots” show weren’t free to include photos by Winogrand, Friedlander and so on if they wanted to. Also good question. I’ll try checking in with them by e-mail.
Meanwhile, lots to do in Athens tomorrow, so back to sleep.