ARTnewsletter Archive

2011: A Good Year for Museum Acquisitions

In recent years, museums across the country have grappled with the economic uncertainty that has sparked staff cutbacks, delayed or canceled shows and, in some instances, lead to permanent shutterings.

NEW YORK—In recent years, museums across the country have grappled with the economic uncertainty that has sparked staff cutbacks, delayed or canceled shows and, in some instances, lead to permanent shutterings. Still, an ARTnewsletter survey of museums across the country showed that many institutions continued to acquire major artworks—both through gifts and outright purchases—at a steady clip in 2011. Another trend that has been gaining ground is instances of museums joining forces and pooling funds to acquire major works and share ownership.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, purchased a ca. 1510, two-sided painted panel by German Renaissance artist Hans Schäufelein from New York dealer Otto Naumann. The work depicts the Dormition of the Virgin on one side and Christ Carrying the Cross on the other. The amount of the purchase was not disclosed. Naumann bought the panel at a sale this past summer at Sotheby’s London for $4.38 million.

At another Sotheby’s auction, in December, the Met paid $3.7 million, a price which surpassed the $800,000/1.2 million estimate, for a marble head of Zeus, a.d. 120–160. The sculpture had been lent to the museum for a year starting in early 2007.

Following a controversy over the removal of David Wojnarowicz’s video, A Fire in My Belly, 1986–87, from the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery show, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, purchased both the original 13-minute version and a 7-minute excerpt prepared by the artist.

In late 2010, bowing to pressure from critics, Smithsonian secretary G. Wayne Clough removed the video, which contained a scene in which ants crawl over a crucifix, from the show “Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture.”

Wojnarowicz’s work was also acquired by the Whitney Museum of American Art, which purchased a trio of stencil prints from New York’s George Adams Gallery. These prints included Burning House, Red Plane and Soldier and Running Soldier, all of which were made in 1982 with enamel spray paint.

MoMA also received Christian Marclay’s widely acclaimed, 24-hour video installation titled The Clock, 2010, as a promised gift from the collection of Jill and Peter Kraus (Jill Kraus is a trustee of the museum). In March, the MoMA purchased two paintings—Tiznit, 1953, and Academy, 1955—as well as seven sculptures by Cy Twombly, who died in July. The nine artworks, said to be worth $75 million, were sold through the artist’s dealer Larry Gagosian and paid for, in part, with the help of donor and trustee gifts, museum funds and the Cy Twombly Foundation itself.

MoMA also purchased, with the resources of six museum trustees, the 223-work collection of American and European conceptual art belonging to Belgian collectors Herman J. Daled and Nicole Daled-Verstraeten. Among the pieces in the collection are 60 works by Marcel Broodthaers, as well as others by Vito Acconci, Daniel Buren, James Lee Byars, Dan Graham and Niele Toroni. In addition, the Modern purchased 20 works of conceptual art by Acconci, Robert Barry, Douglas Huebler, On Kawara, Joseph Kosuth, Robert Smithson and Lawrence Weiner, from exhibition organizer, publisher and dealer Seth Siegelaub.

The Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, N.Y., purchased a video sculpture by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist, All or Nothing, 2010, as well as Thomas Nozkowski’s 2009 painting Untitled (9-117).

The Brooklyn Museum purchased the painting Free Women of Color with Their Children and Servants in a Landscape, by 18th-century Italian artist Agostino Brunias, from London gallery Robilant + Voena.

The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, made a number of major photograph acquisitions, including the purchase of nine photographs by South African photographers Pieter Hugo and Zwelethu Mthethwa, as well as 69 photographs by fashion photographer Herb Ritts.

Further adding to its photography collection was the Getty’s acquisition of a trove of 74 photographs and two contact sheets by Ed Ruscha (purchased from the Gagosian Gallery for an undisclosed price), as well as letters, photographs, datebooks and other archival material by Man Ray (from an unidentified source).

The Getty also acquired 72 prints by Paris-born American photographer Andreas Feininger as a gift from the artist’s estate. Of interest, perhaps more to scholars than to others, is the purchase of the Harald Szeemann archive and library, which contains more than 1,000 boxes of letters, drawings, photographs and research files by and about artists from the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as more than 28,000 books and other publications.

The Getty also learned in 2011 that the British government would grant an export license for J.M.W. Turner’s 1839 painting Modern Rome—Campo Vaccino, which the Getty had bought at auction in 2010 for $44.9 million, but would only be able to retain should no matching bids be made to keep the work in England.

Getty and?LACMA Join Forces to Buy Mapplethorpe Trove

The Getty museum also acquired, from the Robert Mapplethorpe foundation, a collection of 2,000 photographs and 120,000 negatives by the artist, valued at more than $30 million, jointly with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

LACMA purchased Edward Biberman’s painted portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. titled I Had a Dream, 1968, while its collectors committee bought eight works for the institution, including Marclay’s The Clock, Ai Weiwei’s wooden structure Untitled (Divine Proportion), 2006, an untitled 1969 mixed-media work by Craig Kauffman and Donald Judd’s Prototype Desk.

In 2011, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) made an unofficial tally of just over 400 acquisitions, which is close to 2010’s total of 425. Among its purchases over the past year: two works on paper by Vija Celmins—a colored-pencil and ink Globe, 2009–10, and a mezzotint titled Starfield, 2010; a 1970 suite of ten offset lithographs “Misunderstandings (A Theory of Photography” by Mel Bochner; and Sol LeWitt’s 1966 painted wood Wall Grid (3 x 3). A group of nine Bay Area collectors, consisting of Helen Schwab, Robin Wright, Carla Emil, Bob Fisher, Mimi Haas, David Mahoney, Chara Schreyer, Norman Stone and Pat Wilson, pledged a donation to SFMOMA of 195 works of art, including pieces in various media by Ruscha, Diane Arbus, Joseph Beuys, Robert Gober, Eva Hesse, Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Bruce Nauman, Jackson Pollock, Cindy Sherman and David Smith.

The National Gallery of Art received, as a gift from the Milligan and Thomson families, Thomas Moran’s painting Green River Cliffs, Wyoming, 1881. The museum’s collectors committee arranged the purchase of Kerry James Marshall’s painting Great America, 1994.

The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s acquisitions included Doug Aitken’s 360-degree projection (commissioned by the museum but still unnamed) and Carlos Cruz-Diez’s multi-media installation Chromosaturation, which was purchased in association with the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art bought Charles Willson Peale’s portrait of freed African-American slave Yarrow Mamout, 1819, from the Philadelphia History Museum. In order to purchase the portrait, the museum deaccessioned nine works from its American art collection, including two other Peale portraits, two chairs and five unidentified paintings; all sold at Christie’s in November.

The contemporary art holdings at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art grew in 2011, with the purchase of two paintings by Alex Katz—Winter Landscape 2, 2007 and Twilight, 1998—and an untitled 2009 steel sculpture by British artist Anish Kapoor. In addition, the museum acquired 56 graphic prints (produced 1991–2004) by Kiki Smith in a part-purchase, part-donation from art collector Stephen Dull.

Comparable to previous years, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts acquired close to 1,000 objects in 2011. What may be somewhat different from previous years, and likely to continue into the foreseeable future, is a greater focus on contemporary art in various media, destined for the Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art, which opened in September. Among the highlights of last year’s collecting at the MFA was a copy of Marclay’s The Clock, which was a joint purchase with the National Gallery of Canada.

The museum also purchased Gustave Caillebotte’s painting Man at His Bath, 1884, the financing of which became a source of some controversy in the art world. In addition to relying on a variety of museum acquisition funds, the MFA chose to sell eight Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works—by Paul Gauguin, Maxime Maufra, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley and Vasily Vereshchagin—from its permanent collection at Sotheby’s this past November (ANL, 11/8/11).

The Art Institute of Chicago, which opened its Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano, in 2009, added Robert Rauschenberg’s Short Circuit (Combine Painting), 1955, to its collection. James Rondeau, curator of the department of contemporary art, called the work, “without question the most important work by Rauschenberg to enter the collection.” The Art Institute also purchased Kazimir Malevich’s 1915 Painterly Realism of a Football Player—Color Masses in the 4th Dimension. The painting was purchased from the artist’s heirs through the Gagosian Gallery in New York.

Two Texas institutions, the Dallas Museum of Art and the Menil Collection in Houston, joined to purchase an untitled, 2009 part-painting, part-sculpture by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. The Dallas Museum funded through gifts from the Rachofsky Collection and Deedie and Rusty Rose, while the Menil Collection portion was funded through a gift from Nina and Michael Zilkha.

The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Tex., which celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, bought a painting by Mary Cassatt, Woman Standing, Holding a Fan, 1878–79, from the Wildenstein Gallery in New York at a price believed to be about $5 million.

In a complicated purchase involving a London art agent and a department head from Sotheby’s, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Tex., purchased Nicolas Poussin’s painting Sacrament of Ordination (Christ Presenting the Keys to Saint Peter), 1636–42, for $24.3 million in a private sale at Christie’s London. The painting had been part of a Christie’s Old Master auction, with an estimate of $24.3 million/31 million but it was bought in, creating the opening for the Kimbell to obtain the painting.