Should museums lend paintings for cash?

April 26 2015

Image of Should museums lend paintings for cash?

Picture: The Scotsman/National Galleries Scotland (detail from Botticelli's Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Christ, which is on tour in the US)

A number of celebrated works from the National Galleries of Scotland (here in Edinburgh, where I now live) are going on a 'treasures' tour of the USA. Although the reason is not made explicit, one aspect of the tour is to raise money, either through donations or straight out loan fees for the host venues. Quite a few institutions do this these days. But in The Scotsman newspaper, Tiffany Jenkins says the practice should stop:

The danger is that once museum officials start seeing the loaning of art as a way to raise funds, we will see more loans to pay for all kinds of costs. With funding cuts, it’s not like the money is pouring in from other sources, so I understand the attraction. But this practice puts art at risk. Literally – because it is packed up, sent abroad, carted about and unpacked again. But also because art is increasingly weighed on the scales to see what funds it will raise.

And the recipients don’t gain much, either. They get a selection of highlights padded with the second rate, curated, not by an idea, but with a price tag in mind. Lost as a consequence will be a different kind of enrichment – loans conducted for scholarship, the spirit of inquiry and collaboration.

Today the National Galleries of Scotland is a kind of Swiss cheese museum; the best bits are elsewhere. That leaves us – the core audience – shortchanged.

All good things in moderation, I say. The NGS is trying to raise money for a much needed extension - and if sending some masterpieces on a lucrative tour helps bring in the money, so be it.

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