ARTnewsletter Archive

2005 Was a Very Good Year For Museum Acquisitions

Art-acquisition levels rose at a number of museums across the U.S. in 2005—a consequence of several major gifts, generous funding from patrons and board members, and aggressive buying as institutions homed in on modern and contemporary art in particular, including paintings, sculpture, photography and video.

NEW YORK—Art-acquisition levels rose at a number of museums across the U.S. in 2005—a consequence of several major gifts, generous funding from patrons and board members, and aggressive buying as institutions homed in on modern and contemporary art in particular, including paintings, sculpture, photography and video.

At the Miami Art Museum the newly formed Collectors Council contributed its first $200,000 for the purchase of video artworks by such artists as Dara Friedman, Anna Gaskell, Wangechi Mutu, Miguel Angel Rios and Carrie Mae Weems.

The works were part of a new focus following the museum’s installation of a permanent video gallery last year—designed to showcase works in the collections as well as those on loan. The museum eventually expects to erect a new building to house its entire collection—a plan that may well have spurred more accessions. In 2005 the museum acquired, by purchase or by gift, some 58 artworks, compared to 19 in 2004 and 26 in 2003.

The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Mo., bought sculptural works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Petah Coyne, Gaston Lachaise and Michael Rees. An 18-foot-tall Rees sculpture, Putto 2x2x4, 2005, accompanied by a 6-by-9-foot video display, was acquired by the Kemper Museum with funding from the computer and information services company DST Systems. The work is sited not in the museum but in Kansas City’s business district. The Rees piece was the second of a planned total of five works owned by the museum but placed around the city in order “to bring compelling, accessible artwork to downtown Kansas City,” said DST Systems’ CEO and chairman Tom McDonnell.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, D.C., acquired 35 works in a variety of media by such established and emerging contemporary artists as Lynda Benglis, Janet Cardiff, Thomas Demand, Olafur Eliasson and Lorna Simpson. Most of them were donated by board members.

In honor of the Hirshhorn’s longtime director Ned Rifkin, who retired in September, the Glenstone Foundation, founded by Washington, D.C., financier Mitchell P. Rales, purchased four early works by American-born artist John Baldessari (b. 1931) for the museum, chosen from the artist’s personal collection.

The museum has made a concerted effort to expand its collection of photography and video. Last year it purchased a series of black-and-white prints by Lee Friedlander—The Hirshhorn Museum Sculpture Garden: Fifty-Two Photographs, 1975–1977—as well as the film installation Fantôme Créole, by Isaac Julien.

Art Institute Reaps Whistler Trove

The Art Institute of Chicago also saw a substantial jump in acquisitions during the fiscal year Sept. 1, 2004-Aug. 31, 2005, accessioning 1,095 pieces, compared to 686 and 585 in the preceding two years. The highlight of its recent acquisitions is a collection of lithographs the museum calls “definitive,” by James McNeill Whistler (1834-1903); it includes 157 works on paper and consists largely of working drawings and trial proofs.

This was a gift from Chicago’s Crown Family, which has had a multigenerational association with the Art Institute. It was presented in honor of former museum director James Wood.

Among other notable purchases for the Art Institute’s collection during 2005 was the Roy Lichtenstein painting Mirror in Six Panels, 1971, and an oil on panel, The Nativity, 1504-07, by Fra Bartolomeo (1472-1517).

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, added 79 works to its collection last year, two-thirds of them through gifts. The works represented a variety of media, even though increasing MOCA’s holdings in photography has been a priority, museum spokesman John Hindman told ARTnewsletter. In this category the museum received photographs by Slater Bradley, Jose M. Fors, Albrecht Fuchs, David Hilliard, Candida Höfer, Mike Kelley, Robert Mapplethorpe and William Wegman.

Also, paintings by Baldessari, Marlene Dumas, Ellsworth Kelly, Martin Kippenberger and Fred Tomaselli joined drawings by Mel Bochner, Bruce Nauman and Robert Smithson; and sculptural works by Scott Burton, Jeff Koons and Joel Shapiro as highlights of recently acquired gifts.

New York’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) does a considerable amount of buying, but the most notable artworks to enter its collection in 2005 were gifts—among them 174 drawings, prints, paintings and sculptures from the collection of Los Angeles architect and real estate developer Edward Broida (including works by Philip Guston, Mark di Suvero, Nauman and Martin Puryear); and the Judith Rothschild Foundation Collection of almost 2,600 drawings by more than 640 artists (including such luminaries as Joseph Beuys, Jasper Johns, Anish Kapoor and Kelly), donated by MoMA trustee and Rothschild Foundation private investor Harvey S. Shipley Miller.

Another trustee, Donald L. Bryant, provided MoMA with the funds to buy David Hockney’s Seated Woman Being Served Tea by Standing Companion, 1963. The final price with premium, at a Sotheby’s London auction in June, was $3.3 million. The president of the museum’s board of trustees, Marie-Josée Kravis, and her husband, Henry R. Kravis, donated Henri Matisse’s 1948 painting Plum Blossoms, Ochre Background.

The National Gallery of Art also was given a substantial group of 62 works from the Broida collection. These included pieces by Carl Andre, Richard Artschwager, Franz Kline and Claes Oldenburg.

In all, the National Gallery acquired more than 400 works, including an Italian engraving of Saint Bartholomew, dating back to the 15th century; and 15 black-and-white photographs by early 20th-century Czech artist Jaromír Funke. (Both were museum purchases.) A grouping of 141 watercolors and drawings by American John Marin (1870-1953) was donated by the artist’s daughter-in-law.

Robert Adams Photos Go to Yale

The Yale University Art Gallery added to its already strong and growing collection of American photography with the purchase in early 2005 of 1,465 gelatin silver prints by Robert Adams (b. 1937), referred to as the “master sets.” The purchase of these works, for an undisclosed amount, has made Yale the chosen repository of the artist’s complete body of work; and the sale includes an agreement with Adams under which the Yale Art Gallery will receive one print, or set of prints, of all the artist’s future work.

The most notable purchase of photographs in 2005 was the acquisition by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art of an 8,500-work collection of 19th- and early-20th-century images that had been assembled by the Gilman Paper Company over a 20-year period (1977-97). Included are 21 photos by William Henry Fox Talbot, five by Julia Margaret Cameron, three by Jacques-Henri Lartigue, 47 by Eugene Atget, 25 by Alfred Stieglitz, and what are described by the museum’s photography curator Malcolm Daniel as “deep holdings” by Mathew Brady.

Seven Years in the Planning

The acquisition was part gift and part purchase, although the museum declined to disclose the amount it had paid or the collection’s total value. Over a period of seven years, the museum had assembled money for this purchase, combining contributions from the Met’s general art acquisition funds with solicited gifts from trustees and a variety of foundations, including the Annenberg Foundation, the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, the William Talbott Hillman Foundation, the Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation, the Sam Salz Foundation and the Alfred Stieglitz Society, to name some.

In Hartford, Conn., the Wadsworth Atheneum purchased, for an undisclosed amount, an 1888 still life, The Pike, by French Impressionist Alfred Sisley (1839-99)—the first Sisley and the first Impressionist still life in the museum’s collection—as well as four paintings, also for an undisclosed price, by George Catlin (1796-1872), which had been commissioned originally by Hartford gun manufacturer Samuel Colt.

At Sotheby’s London last July, the Wadsworth Atheneum was the winning bidder of a $180,000 plaster bust by French sculptor Jean-Léon Gérôme (1824-1904) of actress Sarah Bernhardt.

In 2005 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art also went on a buying spree, purchasing an oil-on-canvas painting by Robert Bechtle as well as chromogenic prints by Beate Gutschow and Todd Eberle; sculptures by Eliasson, Hans Haacke and Kiki Smith; and photographs by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, August Sander and Paul Strand.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which had seen the number of gifts to the institution drop precipitously from 1,129 in 2003 to just 608 in 2004, watched the figure rise to 909 in 2005, the result of a campaign to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the museum this February. Among the notable gifts were a 1955 encaustic and collage, Figure 7, by Johns; and a mid-16th-century bronze bust of Lucius Junius Brutus, by Italian artist Ludovico Lombardo.

The Denver Art Museum has also returned to a more active acquisitions program in preparation for an expansion, designed by architect Daniel Libeskind, that will double the size of the complex.

Among the newly purchased artworks that will be on display when the Frederick C. Hamilton Building opens next fall are paintings by Milton Avery, Joan Brown, Guston and Edward Ruscha; a series of photographs by Lucas Samaras; and a sculpture by Paul Manship.