The New York Times, By Ben Davis
Indeed, if you’ve thought at all about the fate of art museums in the 21st century, it is probably as a rare example of good news in difficult times. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art has just opened a $305 million addition, creating what is described as the largest modern and contemporary art museum in the country. Last year, two high-profile museums opened in New York (the new $422 million Whitney building downtown) and in Los Angeles (the $140 million Broad).
The turmoil at the Met should be our cue to ask if all this “good news” is really the story of cultural triumph that it is made out to be. According to the Association of Art Museum Directors, for every $8 visitors spend at museums in North America, museums spend $55. So running a museum isn’t a great business, despite the crowds.
According to The Art Newspaper, close to $5 billion from 2007 to 2014 was spent in the United States on new expansions, more than the other 37 countries the newspaper examined put together. The United States is also, the publication notes, unique in the degree to which it funds culture through private philanthropy, rather than public money.
For museum executives, the dirty secret of expansions has been that they are often motivated by the need to have some exciting new thing to rally board members and interest potential patrons. These institutions depend heavily on rich people to fund them. Those rich people like to pay for flashy new buildings; no one wants to donate to boring old museum upkeep.
New institutions like the Broad, financed by the billionaire Eli and his wife, Edythe Broad, and other “ego-seums” illustrate that the people with the money are increasingly interested in founding their own institutions. Consequently, traditional museums have to be ever more aggressive with new projects just to win their imaginations, and their dollars.
Consider the Met. What’s really behind the Breuer expansion beyond carrying the Met’s classical strengths into contemporary art? About 99 percent of all collectors “are collectors of contemporary art,” the former Met director Philippe de Montebello told The New Yorker. “The Met is not, as an act of volition, going to cut itself off from the supporters of the future.”
Click Here to Read More