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Collecting the New

Collecting the New: Museums and Contemporary Art

Edited by Bruce Altshuler
Copyright Date: 2005
Edition: STU - Student edition
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Collecting the New
    Book Description:

    Collecting the New is the first book on the questions and challenges that museums face in acquiring and preserving contemporary art. Because such art has not yet withstood the test of time, it defies the traditional understanding of the art museum as an institution that collects and displays works of long-established aesthetic and historical value. By acquiring such art, museums gamble on the future. In addition, new technologies and alternative conceptions of the artwork have created special problems of conservation, while social, political, and aesthetic changes have generated new categories of works to be collected.

    Following Bruce Altshuler's introduction on the European and American history of museum collecting of art by living artists, the book comprises newly commissioned essays by twelve distinguished curators representing a wide range of museums. First considered are general issues including the acquisition process, and collecting by universal survey museums and museums that focus on modern and contemporary art. Following are groups of essays that address collecting in particular media, including prints and drawings, new (digital) media, and film and video; and national- and ethnic-specific collecting (contemporary art from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and African-American art). The closing essay examines the conservation problems created by contemporary works--for example, what is to be done when deterioration is the artist's intent?

    The contributors are Christophe Cherix, Vishakha N. Desai, Steve Dietz, Howard N. Fox, Chrissie Iles and Henriette Huldisch, Pamela McClusky, Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, Lowery Stokes Sims, Robert Storr, Jeffrey Weiss, and Glenn Wharton.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4935-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Collecting the New: A Historical Introduction
    (pp. 1-14)
    Bruce Altshuler

    The collecting and preserving of objects has traditionally been marked as a—if not the—central function of the museum, but discussion of museums and contemporary art has focused almost entirely on issues of display and exhibition.¹ This is not surprising, as exhibitions are the public face of the museum, being the primary attraction for visitors and the central object of attention in the press and in the academy. But the collecting of contemporary art by museums raises a wide range of issues, from challenges to the traditional conception of the art museum to practical questions relating to the changing...

  4. The Right to Be Wrong
    (pp. 15-28)
    Howard N. Fox

    In an article about architects Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, Arthur Lubow described the duo going through New York’s Museum of Modern Art, emptied and shuttered for renovation, selecting wall fragments where famous works of art had hung, which the architects intended to remove and incorporate into their own impending exhibition at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. “By taking some walls and rejecting others,” Lubow noted in passing,“they would be performing a curator’s functions: deciding which works are aesthetically or historically important.”¹ It was an innocuous enough observation, one that pretty much sums up a widely held view,...

  5. To Have and to Hold
    (pp. 29-40)
    Robert Storr

    Regular readers of the cultural coverage in the New York Times will know that on Fridays one is likely to find stories of notable acquisitions—and sometimes of equally significant deacquisitions—that have been announced that week by one or more of the country’s major museums. With considerable press office fanfare but for the most part little in the way of detailed curatorial background, these stories emphasize the dramatic nature of such events, and all too often concentrate on the cost and social prestige of the transactions. One of the consequences of this mixture of attention-getting publicity and procedural opacity...

  6. 9 Minutes 45 Seconds
    (pp. 41-54)
    Jeffrey Weiss

    In 2001 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., mounted an exhibition of sculpture by Cy Twombly. The exhibition, originally organized by the Basel Kunstmuseum and the De Menil Collection in Houston, was shown not in I.M. Pei’s late-modernist East Building, which houses the museum’s permanent collection of twentieth-century art and is the site of most special exhibitions of work from the modern and postwar periods, but in John Russell Pope’s mid-century Neoclassical West Building. There Twombly’s work occupied the Mellon galleries. These lofty, sky-lit beaux-arts spaces, normally distinguished by dark colored walls and heavily filtered from the sun,...

  7. Breaking Down Categories: Print Rooms, Drawing Departments, and the Museums
    (pp. 55-64)
    Christophe Cherix

    Throughout the world, most public collections of prints and drawings represent only one of the components of the traditional fine-arts museum. The nature of the pieces in such collections—at times midway between document and work of art—requires their curators to consider them outside the strict boundaries of a particular medium and to remain in close contact with the museum’s other departments. An engraving can be an original work of art, with no counterparts in other mediums, or it can be a work of reproduction (the printmaker copies a painting by another artist, for instance). In fact, some prints...

  8. Keeping Time: On Collecting Film and Video Art in the Museum
    (pp. 65-84)
    Chrissie Iles and Henriette Huldisch

    The medium of film, born out of the photograph, is now more than a century old, and video, an invention of radio technology, emerged as a viable mass medium during the technological revolution that took place in the early 1960s. Artists have incorporated both media into their art-making almost from the moment of their inception. Yet art museums have been slow to integrate film and video art into their collections and have only recently begun to fully address the complexities involved in caring for them.

    The emergence of artists’ film and video in the 1960s and 1970s took place as...

  9. Collecting New-Media Art: Just Like Anything Else, Only Different
    (pp. 85-102)
    Steve Dietz

    In this comment, Jeremy Strick is both correct and being rhetorical.¹ Lots of contemporary art raises these same questions. New-media art, particularly in its network-based incarnations, does so perhaps more consistently, but none of the questions raised is radically new. In fact, the Variable Media Initiative, one of the results of institutions’ early investigations of collecting new media, is significant precisely because of its cross-medium applicability.² Nevertheless, there is a kind of crisis of collection—and hence of cultural memory—because of the paucity of new-media art in museum collections and because of the nature of such work—both of...

  10. Beyond the “Authentic-Exotic”: Collecting Contemporary Asian Art in the Twenty-first Century
    (pp. 103-114)
    Vishakha N. Desai

    Not too long ago, I was invited by one of the leading American art museums to talk to the curatorial staff about the “issue” of contemporary Asian art acquisitions. To my surprise, the talk was very well attended, not only by the staff of the Asian and contemporary art departments but also by members of other curatorial and administrative divisions. That such a museum had to at least think about collecting contemporary Asian art was not in question. There was an intellectual awareness that they could no longer afford to have selective amnesia about the creative expressions in the non-Western...

  11. The Unconscious Museum: Collecting Contemporary African Art without Knowing It
    (pp. 115-130)
    Pamela McClusky

    There was no ten-year plan to collect recent African art at the Seattle Art Museum as the twentieth century turned. Nonetheless, collecting happened. As international art practices shifted and as art historical categories were being pushed to accommodate them, new choices for how to collect emerged. A look at these shifts and stretched categories is coming, but first is a case in point.

    Two shipments of art were received at the Seattle Art Museum. Shipment number one arrived in 1999 in a large crate that conformed to the standard for international shipping practices: it was wood, painted yellow with bolted...

  12. The Accidental Tourist: American Collections of Latin American Art
    (pp. 131-146)
    Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro

    Since Abby Aldrich Rockefeller donated three works by José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera to the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1935 and 1936—starting a major, albeit sporadic and inconsistent, Latin American project there—the institutional collecting of art from Latin America has largely been a sub-product of the United States’ own political agenda rather than an intellectual engagement with the material and its historical or artistic significance. For most of the twentieth century, this political agenda was hemispheric diplomacy, wrapped in the “good neighbor” policy and the Cold War. After the multiculturalism of the 1990s,...

  13. Collecting the Art of African-Americans at the Studio Museum in Harlem: Positioning the “New” from the Perspective of the Past
    (pp. 147-162)
    Lowery Stokes Sims

    Through a discussion of the permanent collection of art by African-Americans in the Studio Museum in Harlem (SMH), this essay takes an institutional approach to collecting. The art of African-Americans (and artists of African descent worldwide) is the mission of the SMH, which was founded in the late 1960s to promote and support African-American artists in the wake of the social and political challenges of the 1960s and ’70s.

    It is important to make clear at the outset that in discussing this collection I will not offer a definition of African-American art or an African-American aesthetic. This is not to...

  14. The Challenges of Conserving Contemporary Art
    (pp. 163-178)
    Glenn Wharton

    Contemporary art challenges the underlying values of conservation. Committed to prolonging the physical life of objects in the face of inevitable change, conservators are particularly vexed by Conceptual and other art that questions notions of permanence and deliberately employs ephemeral media.

    Clad in white lab coats and armed with instruments of material analysis in museum laboratories, conservators pursue their quest of understanding the physical mechanisms of change. They strive to inhibit chemical and physical degradation with stabilized museum environments and technical interventions such as consolidation and repair. Yet conservators are not just materials scientists and hands-on craftsmen. They work with...

  15. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 179-180)
    Bruce Altshuler
  16. Index
    (pp. 181-194)
  17. Photography Credits
    (pp. 194-195)