Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Chapter 3 (Part 2): Global Survey of Private Collector Museums

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“In China alone over 100 museums will be built over the next decade.”[i]

What follows is a global survey of private collector museums meant to illustrate the spread of the Bilbao Bug and the various ways these public-private museum projects operate.

Let’s begin in a dark corner of the world, Tasmania: it is there eccentric collector David Walsh built the Museum of Old and New Art to house his collections of antiquities and contemporary art.  MONA is the largest privately funded museum in Australia with an $8 million annual operating budget.  The funding comes from Walsh and from businesses that share the sprawling Morilla estate with the museum.  A winery, brewery, restaurant and sexy boutique hotel all benefit from a micro Bilbao Effect, which in turn supports MONA.  Walsh does not view MONA as a philanthropic endeavor,[ii] nor does he give a shit” about MONA’s economic impact.  How little shit he gives is revealed in the museum’s design: MONA is built into the side of a tidal river and will eventually crumble away due to erosion.  “In 50 years, there’s going to have to be a lot of money spent on Mona or it’s going to be underwater.”[iii]

So this is going to be washed away by the river in a few hundred years.

So this is going to be washed away by the river in a few hundred years.

In Asia, collectors are far more concerned with the resulting economic implications of museum building.  In China where new cities grow over night, private money builds museums, which are used to lure people and business to new centers.  Shen Qibin, former director of the Zendai Museum warns of the surge: “Private museums are proliferating because China has a lot of property developers. They are museums in name only, and sell works like galleries.”[iv]

In Beijing is the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, which until recently showed work from Belgian food baron Guy Ullens’s collection.  Though the Center isn’t a commercial gallery, there is no doub the public display of the Ullens’ collection was significant in increasing its value.  In 2011, Ullens sold off his collection at Sotheby’s Hong Kong.  The Center was used strategically to increase the visibility (and value) of the collection in Asia.  After the collection was sold (for less than the total low estimate) Ullens announced the end of his involvement with the Center.[v]

Oh this, this is our second museum.

Oh this, this is our second museum.

In 2011, vertiginous prices were achieved in the area of contemporary Chinese art, which began outselling Picasso and Warhol. [vi]  Even historically less appreciated Chinese art like Social Realism painting from the 1920s was achieved records.  These prices were the result of Chinese collectors reclaiming ownership of cultural patrimony both ancient and contemporary. At the end of 2012, collecting couple Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei opened the Long Museum in Shanghai to showcase their collections of antiquities, modern and contemporary Chinese art.  The couple spent almost $50 million on the museum and more than $1.5 million annually on overhead.[vii]  Despite the fact that the Long Museum welcomed just 50,000 visitors in its inaugural year, Liu and Wang are opening a second (equally expensive) space in Shanghai next month.[viii]

Art collecting and museum building in Asia isn’t limited to China. In India, mother and son collectors Lekha and Anupam Poddar opened the non-profit Devi Art Foundation in the suburbs of New Delhi to showcase their collections, which includes both contemporary and historic Indian art, both tribal and blue chip.  There is also powerhouse Indian collector Kiran Nadar who unapologetically opened an eponymous museum space (in a mall no less) in New Delhi to display her modern and contemporary Indian art collections.

Is India the new China?

Is India the new China?

In Magelana, Central Java, collector Oei Hong Djien opened his OHD Museum of Modern and Contemporary Indonesian Art in 1997, and has plans to expand.  Djien opened the museum (he is also the curator) because, as he said, “In Asia, the private sector plays a very important role in supporting contemporary art, because governments are not really that interested.”[ix]  Dijen is active in the southeastern Asian art scene, sits on several museum boards, and contributes to art scholarship.  He literally wrote the book on modern and contemporary Indonesian art.[x]

Indonesian-Chinese collector Budi Tek opened the Yuz Art Museum in 2008 to display his burgeoning collection of international contemporary art, but doesn’t plan on stopping there.  Tek plans to open a constellation of museums; an art network across East Asia to show his evergrowing collection.[xi]  Tek is also concerned with creating financially sustainable museums: “I think I am the first Chinese or Indonesian to be seriously making a collection into an institution. The first to build up a sustainable collection system.”[xii] His new museum in Jakarta (opened in 2013) runs on revenue from hotels and even a wedding chapel on the museum site.[xiii]

The person ranked number one on Art + Auction’s 2011 Power 100 List in 2011 was Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, daughter of the ruling Emir of Qatar (she also made the top ten in 2012 and 2013).[xiv]  While it may not be her personal collection, this young royal acquires contemporary art at a rapid rate and at isn’t afraid (or unable) to pay a premium.[xv] After making waves for the millions paid for Rothkos and Warhols, Qatar outdid itself when it purchased Cezanne’s The Card Players for a reported $250 million.[xvi]  The price was not just a record for Cezanne, or for a modern painting, or even for a painting, but demolished the record price for any artwork ever sold.[xvii]

Oh, you have a Louvre and a Guggenheim, that’s nice.

Oh, you have a Louvre and a Guggenheim, that’s nice Abu Dhabi.

This 1% buying is motivated by the fact there are many new art museums to fill in Qatar.  The Sheikha leads the Qatar Museum Authority, which oversees the Mathaf Arab Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Islamic Art, and the Orientalist Museum—all in the capital city of Doha.  A fourth museum, a Jean Nouvel-designed National Museum of Qatar, is scheduled to open at the end of 2014.  This dense cluster of art and starchitecture engages in direct competition with neighboring gulf state Abu Dhabi with its museum cluster on Saadiyat Island, which includes outposts of the Guggenheim and the Louvre.

Oh is that a Gehry?

Oh is that a Gehry?

In Europe, the private collector museum tradition is strong.  The best example of this used to be Charles Saatchi with his Saatchi Gallery, but other collectors have been giving Saatchi a run for his Koons.  Enter dueling French luxury company owners Bernard Arnault and Francois Pinault.  Arnault, owner of the luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH), is currently building the Louis Vuitton Foundation for Creativity in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris.  The cloud-inspired, Frank Gehry-designed museum was met with local resistance, which postponed the project several times; however the French Senate approved the project in 2011.[xviii]  Although a separate, non-profit legal entity from LVMH, the museum will show works from Arnault’s collection as well as LVMH products.  It will open sometime this year.

Oh is that a Koons?

Oh is that a Koons?

Pinault, owner of rival luxury company Kering (formerly Pinault-Printemps-Redoute), was also met with Parisian resistance when he attempted to build a museum on the Ile de Seguin.  Pinault became so frustrated with Paris that he took his offer elsewhere, and refurbished a historic Venetian palace, the Palazzo Grassi, to house his collection instead.  The Palazzo Grassi project was so successful, that in 2007 the City of Venice gave Pinault control of another historic property, the Punta della Dogana, so it too could be converted into an art exhibition space. Both locations display Pinault’s collection, though the Palazzo Grassi will eventually transition into a kunsthalle space.[xix]

Eastern European oligarchs also use their money and collections to influence cities.  In 2006, Ukrainian billionaire Victor Pinchuk opened the Pinchuk Art Center in a historic neighborhood of Kiev.  The Center is run by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation, the largest philanthropic organization in the Ukraine.  The Center is so popular Pinchuk plans to open another, larger space (rumored to be designed by Herzog & de Meuron).[xx]  Pinchuk believes public exposure to contemporary art “will help modernize society, especially for the young generation.”[xxi] This public benefit sentiment is very sweet, but whether his pricey baubles, like Jeff Koons’s Hanging Heart (Magenta/Gold) (which he bought for $23.5 million) or Koons’s Diamond (Blue) ($11.8 million) can really modernize society is debatable.

Russian art collector Roman Abramovich and girlfriend Dasha Zhukova have become an art world power couple. In 2011, Abramovich gained permission from the city of St. Petersburg to redevelop the derelict site of New Holland Island, a former military warehouse out of use for 300 years.[xxii]  He purchased the island for $356 million,[xxiii] and plans to spend another $400 million[xxiv] developing the site. Part of the plans for redevelopment include spaces for the display of Abramovich’s own collection (which includes Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon), as well as an exhibition space for Zhukova’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture.

Hey, neighbor, how do you like my understated museum?

Hey, neighbor, how do you like my understated museum?

On the other side of the world, collectors are engaged in similar behavior.  The Jumex Foundation, project of juice heir Eugenio Lopez Alonso, just opened a museum in the posh Polanco neighborhood of Mexico City.  The Jumex Collection’s neighbor is the Soumaya Museum, which was built by the world’s richest individual, Carlos Slim Helu to house his vast art collections.  The two museums anchor a district accompanied by new retail, entertainment, and residential space developed by one Helu’s companies.[xxv] Here the link between museum and anticipated development is inextricably coupled.

In Brazil, far removed from a large metropolis like Mexico City, nestled in a rainforest is perhaps the most enigmatic of these private collector museums.  The Inhotim Institute of Contemporary Art and Botanical Garden is the ongoing passion project of mining magnate Bernardo Paz.  A scattering of pavilions populates this huge botanical park, some house a single work of art and are often designed in consultation with the artists whose work is inside.  So far there are 15 pavilions for art, and there are plans for more.[xxvi] Inhotim has become an economy unto itself, and benefits the small city nearby, Brumadinho.  It “employs more than 400 locals, including what seems like an entire army of young adults in green T-shirts who patrol the grounds as guards and guides”[xxvii] Also housed at Inhotim is the Department for Inclusion and Citizenship, which among other things works with a local network of businesses to focus on the development of the tourism industry so it can best benefit the people of the region. As Inhotim expands, the financial benefits and social services to its locality will also increase.  Here perhaps is the most congenial example of a private collector museum not simply expecting economic benefits as a result of its existence, but rather actively working to provide those benefits through collaborations and interactions with local business and community.

Inhotim. I want to go there.

Inhotim. I want to go there.

This global survey has purposefully excluded American examples; what will follow are several case studies on American collectors and the spaces they have built or have attempted to build to showcase their art collections.


[i] Don Thompson, The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: the Curios Case of Economics of Contemporary Art, Pelgrave, 2008, p. 213.
[ii] Marion Hume, “Wild At Art,” W Magazine, January 2011.
[iii] Cristina Ruiz, “A “Subversive Disneyland’ at the end of the world,” The Art Newspaper, July 2010.
[iv] Lisa Movius, “Vanity, vanity: the problems facing China’s private museums,” The Art Newspaper, November 2011.
[v] Madeleine O’Dea, “Behind the Ullens Collection’s Planned $16.7 Sale at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, ArtInfo, February 16, 2011, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/36969/behind-the-ullens-collections-planned-167-sale-at-sothebys-hong-kong.
[vi] Kelly Crow, “Art’s New Pecking Order,” Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2012.
[vii] Jo Caird, “The Future of Museums in China,” The Guardian, February 5, 2014.
[viii] Ibid.
[ix] Sonia Kolesnikov-Jessop, “Asian Collectors Showcase Works,” New York Times, June 13, 2011.
[x] Helena Spanjaard and Hong Dijien Oei, Exploring Modern Indonesian Art, SNP Editions, 2004.
[xi] Christina Ruiz, “My space: coming to Shanghai,” The Art Newspaper, June 16, 2011.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiii] Ibid.
[xiv] “Art+Auction’s Power 100: Francois Pinault, Dasha Zhukova, Larry Gagosian, and More,” ArtInfo, November 29, 2011, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/752474/artauctions-power-100-francois-pinault-dasha-zhukova-larry-gagosian-and-more.
[xv] Georgina Adam and Charlotte Burns, “Qatar revealed ad the world’s biggest contemporary art buyer,” The Art Newspaper, July-August 2011.
[xvi] Alexandra Peers, “Qatar Purchases Cezanne’s The Card Players for More Than $250 Million,” Vanity Fair, February 2012.
[xvii] Ibid.
[xviii] Hannah Elliot, “LVMH Moves Forward with Gehry Art Museum,” Forbes.com, March 31, 2011, http://www.forbes.com/sites/hannahelliott/2011/03/31/lvmh-moves-forward-with-gehry-art-museum
[xix] Andrew M. Goldstein, “Francois Pinault Hone His Grip on Venice by Reorganizing Art Sites,” Artinfo.com, March 14, 2011, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/37198/francois-pinault-hones-his-grip-on-venice-by-reorganizing-art-sites.
[xx] John Varoli, “Billionaire Pinchuk, With Seven Hirsts, is Art’s Mystery Buyer,” Bloomberg, October 25, 2007.
[xxi] Ibid.
[xxii] “New Holland Island by Work AC,” Dezeen Magazine, August 3, 2011, http://www.dezeen.com/2011/08/03/new-holland-island-by-work-ac/
[xxiii] Robert Mendick, “Roman Abramovich to spend £250 million on St Petersburg art museum project,” Telegraph Online, November 28, 2010, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/8164981/Roman-Abramovich-to-spend-250-million-on-St-Petersburg-art-museum-project.html
[xxiv] “Russian Billionaire swRoman Abramovich Calls a Starchitect Search for Dasha Zhukova’s Art Island,” Artinfo.com, February 25, 2010, http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/37058/russian-billionaire-roman-abramovich-calls-a-starchitect-search-for-dasha-zhukovas-art-island/
[xxv] Nicholas Casey, “Emperor’s New Museum,” Wall Street Journal, March 3, 2011.
[xxvi] Christina Ruiz, “Where dreams come true,” The Art Newspaper, November 2010.
[xxvii] Stephen Wallis, “Brazil’s Art Gardens,” Departures Magazine, May/June 2010.

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