In the News: Where Does Art Belong?

Laura Heirigs, FWMoA Education Intern

Have you ever walked through an art museum and felt absolutely compelled to stand in front of one work of art and just look at it? Maybe it’s the colors, the lines, or the subject that stopped you. It may even have been some ineffable quality, and your reason for liking that piece is “I just do”, perhaps accompanied with a small foot stamp like a young child. If so, you’re not alone! Every culture since the beginning of time has felt the call to create art. Starting with cave paintings 15 feet in the air that are only accessible by army-crawling 100 feet, to the portrait miniatures of the 1700s, to the Internet memes of today; there’s just something inside of us that has always needed to make and view art. Art and artifacts are windows to our collective past that also teach us about the present. Today, museums are popular attractions as a love of art has inspired people to collect, donate, loan, and, occasionally, even steal artwork.

In Switzerland, the Beyeler Foundation has initiated a project called #myprivatepicasso. All that’s required is for Switzerland residents to make a post on social media explaining why they deserve a Picasso, in this case Buste de femme au chapeau (Dora), in their home. The lucky winner will have the Picasso installed in their home for one day, Friday, April 19th. Submissions are already in with many citing reasons such as “The neighbors will turn the color of an *avocado emoji*” and “An experience I could share with all my family and friends and a memory that would last a lifetime!” as well as “My favorite artist!”  The thought process behind this seemingly risky, yet totally drool-worthy endeavor, is to encourage more people to engage with works of art. The competition has also, inadvertently, inspired the Smart Frame, designed to keep the artwork safe at all times. This new feat of technology can track the painting’s location, temperature, humidity, and UV ray levels. The frame also has a camera, lasers, and connects to WiFi, all to keep the Picasso safe on its field trip away from its comfy home in the Beyeler Foundation. It’s no surprise that project #myprivatepicasso is as popular as it is. Picasso is an artist known and loved by most of the Western hemisphere, and his work often has a six figure price tag. The idea of having one of his paintings hanging in your own home, therefore, is an exciting one and a rare experience to have. Imagine the bragging rights! This seems like an “everything to gain, nothing to lose” situation to me.

At FWMoA, we can’t fathom a day not looking at art. If people won’t come to the art, then I guess the art will just have to come to them! Granted, there is something special about having artwork in your own home: it’s there for you to view every day, it belongs to you (and no one else) in a personal way, and you can develop a deeper, more intimate relationship with a work when it’s in your personal space. This may be what inspired the de Kooning theft back in 1985 on Thanksgiving Day from the University of Arizona Museum of Art in Tucson. Woman-Ochre hung in a second floor gallery and was cut out of its frame by a man while his wife distracted the security guard. The couple then left the museum abruptly, and the painting was not seen again until an estate auction in 2017, 30 years later. The painting was found in the home of Jerry and Rita Alter in Cliff, a small town in New Mexico. The couple had kept the painting behind their bedroom door, where only they could view it. They did not mention the painting in their will and they had not intended to return it to the museum, instead leaving it for their nephew to manage. The painting is now back in the care of the University of Arizona Museum of Art, where they will repair the cracks in the paint caused by being rolled up, before it will be put back on display for the public to view.

The damage done to the de Kooning is one of the main reasons why art needs caretakers. Museums hire people specifically trained in conserving and preserving the art. Serious collectors have read extensively on art care. Temperature, light, and humidity must be controlled to ensure these pieces stay in the best condition. Museums and private collections are not perfect, they can fail and experience disasters like the fire in the Rio museum in Brazil or recently at Notre Dame in Paris. Still, they represent our world’s best chance to provide access to the same inspiring images to future generations.

While the Alters did not, many collectors will leave instructions that pertain to the care of their collections after their death. The museum’s current exhibition, A Year of Making Meaning, includes art that has been gifted or donated to FWMoA in the last year. Collectors choose to donate their art to museums for many reasons: they don’t want to break up the collection between beneficiaries, or for the art to be neglected, or they’d like to be memorialized through their gift, or they’d like others to experience the same art they have throughout their lives. When art is in a museum, it can be shared by all; everyone gets a chance to feel that intense love of art that drove Jerry and Rita Alter to steal a painting. When art stays in its frame, everyone gets a chance to be filled with that awestruck wonder that it has inspired since civilization began. That is why the #myprivatepicasso project is so intriguing. There’s an eagerness to experience and absorb everything that a painting, and the culture it was made in, has to offer. As collectors continue to donate to museums and lost paintings are returned to their rightful  homes, I hope that the trend continues that art will finds its way, eventually, back to the museums.

Want to see what art was donated to FWMoA this year by collectors? Come check out our current exhibition, A Year of Making Meaning, on view through June 9th, 2019!

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