A recent full-page article in The New York Times perfectly depicted that city’s strangely parochial world of high-end art galleries, museums and collectors. Enticingly headlined “How the superrich captured the art world,” it was an irresistible read. The writer: Michael Massing, the author of “Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind.”
Massing points out that the entire bizarre (my word, not his) scene is fueled by vast infusions of private money. The Museum of Modern Art spent $425 million on a 2004 renovation and just “solidified its position as one of the world’s leading showcases for high culture” with yet another $450 million renovation. The new go-round was designed by “Starchitects” (Massing’s word, not mine) Diller, Scofidio + Renfro, also the design architects for the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Museum and Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs.
The 2004 renovation was largely funded by 50 $5 million donations from MOMA trustees, who also anted up big bucks for the next round. Entertainment mogul David Geffen kicked in $100 million, perhaps proving that “Stoking the star-maker machinery/Behind the popular song” was a good career choice in the early 1970s.
Massing isn’t happy with the status quo. The superrich control the boards, own fabulous art that they give or bequeath to their favorite institutions and decide with their pocketbooks who will be the next fabulous artists. He thinks that there should be more public funding for the arts and that museum boards should include “architects, historians, art critics and nonprofit leaders” and thereby “force museums to consider a much broader array of viewpoints.”
Sorry, but this is just a fun little tempest in a very expensive teapot. New York’s expensive, clubby “Art World” has nothing to do with artists, galleries, collectors and museums between the coasts. In several decades as a dedicated but perennially broke collector, I’ve filled our walls and shelves with the works of local artists. The earliest: a little drawing by William Henry Holmes, executed when he was here with the Hayden Survey in 1877 — found in a flea market 30 years ago. The most recent: a much altered 2019 photograph of a monarch butterfly by Manitou artist Julia Wright, acquired from the artist.
Of the 150-odd prints, paintings, ceramics and sculptures we own and love, 106 are by local artists and most of the rest are by Colorado-based artists. None are particularly valuable, but all pass the Marie Kondo test: They give us joy.
Most collectors I know have similar motivations — they collect what they like, and they like what they keep.
And what about our museums? Both the Fine Arts Center and the Pioneers Museum are emphatically local organizations. Their missions, goals and ambitions are different, but neither is subject to the whims and tastes of the superrich (or even the sort-of Colorado Springs rich). Their permanent collections are either available to researchers and historians or rotate on display. By contrast, MOMA and the Metropolitan Museum are locked treasure chests, vast collections of superstar artworks hidden away in storage vaults. What’s on display is magnificent — although Massing argues that such shows are substantially enabled by donor tax breaks.
Our galleries, like The Modbo, 45 Degree, and Kreuser offer wonderful art at reasonable prices, whatever your taste may be. It’s not a snobby, money-driven world, but one populated by passionate small businesspeople serving as conduits between artists and collectors.
And finally, the creatives, without whom there would be no galleries, no collectors, no museums and no art — what a gray, dull and dispiriting world that would be.
No worries. The creative community is deeper, better, more diverse, more talented and more exciting than at any time in my memory. That’s particularly galling for an unreconstructed collector who’d love to add a few new pieces to an already unwieldy collection, but can’t afford to. We need to paint the house, get a new washer/dryer and build up our savings. What am I saying? Ars longa, vita brevis. We need more art.
So just to feed the art-hungry beast, I went to the Arc Thrift Store at Uintah Gardens and, mirabile dictu, found a lovely unframed piece signed Ingrid Hast, dated August ’77 and titled Flores de Sueño (Dream Flowers).
The price: $9.99. Given that I’d expect to spend a lot more on a nice small piece at a gallery, that ups my art budget considerably. Galleries, here I come…