ARTnewsletter Archive

Museums Step Up Acquisitions in 2010

Despite continued uncertainty about the economy, many museums saw improvements in their financial health last year, reaping the benefits of cutbacks and other cautionary fiscal measures taken in the recent past.

NEW YORK—Despite continued uncertainty about the economy, many museums saw improvements in their financial health last year, reaping the benefits of cutbacks and other cautionary fiscal measures taken in the recent past. An ARTnewsletter survey of the country’s top museums indicates that many institutions were actively adding to their collections not only through donations but also by using acquisition and endowment funds to purchase works outright.

The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles was an active buyer this year. Among the major works it acquired was a four-foot-wide view of Rome, Modern Rome–Campo Vaccino, 1839, by J.M.W. Turner, bought last summer at a Sotheby’s London auction for £29.7 million ($44.9 million), far surpassing the £12 million/18 million ($18.2 million/27.4 million) estimate and setting a new record for the artist. The Getty also acquired a group of more than 40 letters and postcards by René Magritte to his countryman and friend, poet Paul Colinet written between 1934 and 1957. The correspondence had been auctioned last June at Sotheby’s London for £147,265 ($218,500) against an estimate of £135,000/270,000.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was also a significant buyer in the past year, purchasing a work cast from tin alloy by the 18th-century Austrian court sculptor Franz Xaver Messerschmidt, titled A Hypocrite and Slanderer, from Viennese art dealer Roman C. Herzig, who had it on consignment from a private Austrian collection. (The Met did not reveal the price, but the record for a Messerschmidt sculpture at auction is $4.8 million, set in 2005.) The museum also purchased a second-century B.C. Roman copy of an ancient Greek marble sculpture, The Three Graces, which had been on loan to the Met from a private collector since 1992.

The Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased three mixed-media sculptural works by Robert Barry, from the 1960s—90mc Carrier Wave (FM), 1968, as well as two untitled works. It also acquired three acrylic-on-canvas paintings from the ’60s by Lawrence Weiner—No Title, Title Unknown and Yellow Wheel with Orange Border—plus three other ’60s-era conceptual installations—A Wall Pitted by a Single Air Rifle Shot; Gloss White Lacquer, Sprayed for 2 Minutes at 40lb Pressure Directly upon the Floor and A 36 x 36 Removal to the Lathing or Support of Plaster or Wallboard from a Wall.

Earlier this month (Jan. 13) the museum announced it had acquired a complete version of A Fire in My Belly, 1986–87, by David Wojnarowicz—both the original 13-minute version and a 7-minute excerpt made by the artist. The video, which includes a segment in which ants crawl over a crucifix, sparked controversy and drew widespread attention to the artist following the work’s recent removal from the exhibition “Hide/Seek: Differences and Desire in American Portraiture,” on view at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C., through Feb. 13.

The subject matter brought protest from the New York–based Catholic League. Several members of Congress took note, questioning why such work was included in the show, and on Nov. 30 the video was ordered removed by Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough. (ANL, 1/11/11)

Also among its acquisitions last year, the Modern bought an untitled 2007 enamel-on-linen painting by Christopher Wool, and a 2009 audio installation, Days, by Bruce Nauman, that was featured at the Venice Biennale.

The museum accepted the gifts of Richard Tuttle’s 2008 mixed-media Walking on Air, B-8 from its former president Agnes Gund, a frequent name on ARTnews magazine’s annual list of the world’s top 200 collectors, and a 1992–93 wall installation, Atrabilious, by Doris Salcedo, donated by Marie-Josée and Henry Kravis, who also appear on the magazine’s list of top collectors.

In partnership with the Laurenz Foundation, of Basel, Switzerland, MoMA bought the entire archive of Matthew Barney’s “Drawing Restraint” series, which documents, in drawings and videos, obstacles and physical restraints the artist set up in his studio while attempting to make drawings on the wall or ceiling.

Banner Year for MFA Boston

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has been active in raising funds, constructing new exhibition spaces and acquiring new work. Museum director Malcolm Rogers said the MFA has been focusing in particular on strengthening its holdings of South American and contemporary art, through both donations and purchases.

Among its notable acquisitions of the past year were a ca. 1600 oil on canvas, St. Francis Supported by an Angel, by Italian artist Orazio Gentileschi, purchased from the Richard L. Feigen & Co. gallery in New York, an 1870s–80s Japanese scroll with an ink drawing of a courtesan purchased from Christie’s and a 2009 two-dimensional mixed-media work by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, Black River, purchased from the Centre for Contemporary Art in Lagos, Nigeria.

Works added to the collection of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum during 2010 included a 2009 16mm film, Beau Geste, by Morocco-based Yto Barrada, a 2009 slide-projection installation, In the Near Future, by New York–based Sharon Hayes, a 19-channel digital video, The Torn First Pages, 2004–8, by Indian artist Amar Kanwar, the 2006 interactive piece This Progress by German artist Tino Sehgal and the 2010 sound installation The Shallow Sea by Scottish artist Susan Philipsz.

In Washington, D.C., the National Gallery of Art’s collectors committee’s purchases included Nam June Paik’s last work of video sculpture, Ommah, 2005, from the artist’s estate, John McCracken’s painted plywood Black Plank, 1967, from New York’s David Zwirner Gallery, a set of 10 lithographs by Glenn Ligon, “Runaways,” 1993, and an untitled 1991 photolithograph by Robert Gober.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art acquired, through a gift-and-purchase arrangement with New York City’s Aperture Foundation, more than 3,000 photographic images by Paul Strand. Lynne and Harold Honickman, Marjorie and Jeffrey Honickman, and H.F. and Marguerite Lenfest funded the acquisition of 1,422 of those images from Aperture’s Paul Strand Archive, while artist Richard Benson assisted in paying for 566 master prints from Strand’s negatives, and the museum itself raised funds for the purchase of the other 1,276 photographs. The museum did not disclose the total amount of the purchase price, although published reports suggested that the final bill was in excess of $10 million.

New York philanthropist Emily Fisher Landau pledged 367 works from her collection to the Whitney Museum of American Art, a gift estimated to be worth $50 million/75 million and to include pieces by William Eggleston, Jasper Johns, Ed Ruscha and Andy Warhol, among others.

The Jewish Museum bought a 1913 Edouard Vuillard painting, Lucie Hessel Reading, at Christie’s London last February, paying $464,426, with money provided by an anonymous donor.

Last March, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art finalized a part-purchase and part-gift (from its trustees) of 25 works from the collection of Italian count Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. (Panza passed away in April).

Brokered by Christie’s, the acquisition includes five early conceptual pieces by Nauman, as well as other works by Barry (the 1971–72 series of 81 slides with text It Can Seem to Be…), Joseph Beuys (the 1963 wood, chalk, terry cloth, oil and metal Fontana Dose), Hanne Darboven (51 ink-on-paper drawings from 1971–72), Jan Dibbets, Joseph Kusuth (the 1966 ink on paper mounted on aluminum Titled (Art as Idea as Idea) (Paint)) and Weiner.

San Francisco’s de Young Museum purchased French artist Jean-Francois Raffaëlli’s 1881 painting The Absinthe Drinkers. The museum acquired the work at Christie’s last May for $2.9 million, far above its $400,000/600,000 estimate (ANL, 5/18/10).

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art made important acquisitions across a wide range of collecting areas. Purchases included Tony Smith’s 1967 painted-aluminum sculpture Smoke (refabricated by the estate in 2005) and John Baldessari’s 1974 series of seven black-and-white photographs mounted on board Portrait: Artist’s Identity Hidden with Various Hats.

The LACMA collectors committee was also active, raising $2 million for acquisitions. One of the first items it purchased last year was an 1880 oil by French artist Jean-Jacques Henner, Mary Magdalene, bought in April at Sotheby’s for $57,000, (estimate: $25,000/35,000). The museum also purchased Chris Burden’s 2006 Hot Wheels installation Metropolis II directly from the artist.

Windfall for Huntington Library

It has been a particularly good year at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, California. The institution received a cash gift, expected to yield more than $100 million, from the estate of Frances Lasker Brody, a member of the Huntington’s Board of Overseers for 20 years, who died in November 2009. The money will be invested the same way an endowment would be, freeing up operating funds.

The Huntington has been active in buying artworks for its collection, including British artist David Wilkie’s oil Sancho Panza in the Days of his Youth, 1835, and French artist Philippe de Champaigne’s ca. 1660–63 Portrait of Jean de Thévenot, which had long been attributed to a Dutch painter, Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, but more recently has been confirmed as a work by de Champaigne. The Huntington’s modern and contemporary art holdings were also boosted thanks to the gift of several works by Andy Warhol, including the 1962 painting Small Crushed Campbell’s Soup Can (Beef Noodle) and the sculptural 1964 Brillo Box, as well as several posthumous 1990 Brillo Box copies, from the collection of Robert Shapazian, the founding director of Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills and the director of Lapis Press in Venice, California, which published artists books in limited editions.

Brooklyn, New York, art gallery Causey Contemporary sold two 2009 oil-on-panel paintings by Magnolia Laurie—November Charlie and To Abandon My Vessel—to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, Missouri. The works appeared in a late-winter 2010 exhibition at the gallery and are the first works by the artist to enter a public collection.

Museums frequently buy artworks that have hung on their walls as part of loan exhibits. The Akron Art Museum purchased Mickalene Thomas’s painting Girlfriends and Lovers and Yinka Shonibare’s photograph La Méduse, both of which had been part of an exhibition at the museum last spring titled “Pattern ID.”

The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis made a number of purchases over the past year, from its many acquisitions-directed endowments and funds. Among the items acquired were the 1968 aluminum-and-rubber-hose-work Pipe by Bill Bollinger, and five untitled graphite-on-paper drawings by the same artist from the same year; a 2009 nine-minute 35mm slide projection, free fotolab by Phil Collins; two 8mm videos, Eastern Morning, 2008, and Three Screen Ray, 2006, by Bruce Conner; an untitled 1971 acrylic-on-wood sculpture by Carmen Herrera, plus three untitled 1966 ink-on-paper drawings by the same artist; a 1966–98 video installation, 16 Millimeter Earrings, by Meredith Monk; and a 2000–9 paint and marker on photo collage by William Pope L.

The Minneapolis Institute of Art purchased Doug Aitken’s 2008 video projection Migration, and added a number of objects to its sculpture and decorative arts collection, including a Roman A.D. 2nd century marble-and-gilt figure of St. Peter, seated on a marble throne (attributed to the 16th-century Italian Bastiano Torigiani) and a gilt wood statue of St. Benedict (attributed to 18th-century Spanish artist Jose Montes de Oca).

Fine and decorative arts objects have been high on the Cleveland Museum of Art’s wish list, and through purchases from endowment funds the institution has acquired the 15th-century Byzantine icon The Mother of God and Infant Christ, which has been attributed to icon painter Angelos Akotantos; a 1977 abstract painting, Rho I, by Jack Whitten; contemporary Chinese artist Xu Bing’s 1985 woodcut Five Series of Repetition: Moving Cloud (Yi-yun); and William Turner’s ca.1850 watercolor A View from Moel Cynwch: Looking Over the Vale of Afon Mawddach and Toward Cader Idris.

The Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, bought John Marin’s 1927 watercolor New York Series. The Indianapolis Museum of Art purchased ten Robert Indiana screenprints from the early 1990s, as well as a ca. 1595–96 Sleeping Cupid by Caravaggio and a 1510­–15 The Agony of the Garden that is attributed to the Circle of Giovanni di Pietro. In addition, the museum commissioned the Cuban art team Los Carpinteros to create an outdoor painted-steel sculpture, Free Basket, and artist Tara Donovan to produce an untitled 13 foot-tall Mylar-with-steel-armature sculpture.

The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, bought the ca. 1619–20 painting Christ and the Woman of Samaria by Guercino from a European private collection through New York art dealer Adam Williams. The museum declined to reveal the price, although experts in the field estimated that it may have exceeded $10 million. Also in Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum purchased George de Forest Brush’s oil The Potter, 1889, which depicts a Native American at work.

With an official opening date now set for Nov. 11, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., founded by Walmart heiress Alice Walton, continues to build up its permanent collection. Among the highlights of the past year’s acquisitions were an 1865 painting by Robert Scott Duncanson, Flatboat Men, and a 2008 wool tapestry by Kara Walker, A Warm Summer Evening in 1863. The museum also purchased two wooden sculptural pieces, the 2007–8 installation Room by Alison Elizabeth Taylor and Marisol Escobar’s 1977 Portrait of Martha Graham.