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American

Well, I was just settling down with a glass of my favorite beverage (hint: it rhymes with wine) when I chanced to open up the current issue of Art in America. Now, I will confess, usually I mostly look at the pictures, (and I am sure I’m not alone in this – even their ads are interesting) but I was struck by an article about a new museum opening in Shanghai – the Long Museum. What made this notable – well, to me at least - was that the entire collection had been amassed over the past 20 years by Liu Yiquian and his wife Wang Wei.

Two people I had never heard of. And they have so many works of art, even they haven’t catalogued them all. But to give an idea, the article says that they have spent nearly $317 million – in the last two years. OK, impressive enough. Then the article went on to say that there were 3 government art museums – and 5 private museums – currently in Shanghai.

I was astonished. Then I stopped to think about it – the whole idea of single collector/collection museums – and asked around.
JP Paul, the always interesting writer, currently based in South America, pointed out to me that single owner museums were not exactly new - The Frick, for example, in New York (I’m a member of the excellent library), or the Musee Jacquemart-Andree in Paris. Then one of my favorite artists, Richard Bruland from California pointed me in the direction of quirkier spaces, such as The Museum of Jurassic Technology.

And really, once I started looking into it there are quite a few notable private museums - Leeum, Samsung Museum in Korea, The Rubell Family collection, Fondation Cartier (under the direction of the quite wonderful Herve Chandes), Fondation Beyeler, and the new kid in town (so to speak) the Crystal Bridges Museum. All of them are private, single owner – whether corporate owner, foundation or individual – and of the ones I’ve seen – pretty damn interesting.

My local museum? It has a small Asian arts collection, a somewhat larger decorative arts collection, some rather fine impressionist pictures –some “modern” pictures that seem to have been donated by the families of local artists. It also has lately been given a large – and interesting - photographic collection. And I think most museums are like that. They start off with donations from the local guy (or gal) – a little of this, and a little of that. Local notables donate a few pictures here, a sculpture or 3 from the Grand Tour – and voila. It isn’t until a director or curator comes along who really has a vision, that the museum really takes shape.
Or not.

Some museums never really become interesting, they end up being the place where school kids go on field trips during rainy days.
As Orhan Pamuk, one of my favorite writers put it “ Real Museums are places where Time is transformed into space. “
I’ll raise a glass to that.