Painful break-up: why do we want art collections to stay together?
There’s an aversion to art galleries breaking up collections and selling their works – but is it a short-sighted policy, and should museums sell some of their pieces to help their home cities?
What about being priced out of the market? “Imma went from an acquisitions budget of €600,000 a year to nothing,” says Glennie. There is now a small amount of money available again, which the museum is focusing on Irish artists and Irish galleries. The danger is that the opportunity is being missed to buy the work of artists while their prices are affordable.
Ten years ago, you could have bought a Francis Bacon painting for £8 million; 20 years ago, far less, and that’s when the wise museums were buying his paintings.
The top end of the art market is fuelled by fashion, and stratospheric prices are often a tool to convince billionaire buyers that they are getting quality art. Museum buying on the other hand is driven by expertise and instinct, so the artists that good curators are buying now are likely to be the ones hyped in a decade’s time. The real problem is, not of collections being broken up and sold, but cash-strapped museums having to watch from the sidelines while the next generation of artists move out of reach of their purchasing power. On the other hand, as history shows, and the fortunes of countries rise and fall, art moves around the world and very little is lost forever.
THEY’LL GO FAR: WELL-TRAVELLED IRISH ART
l Harry Clarke’s 1930 masterpiece, The Geneva Window, in the Wolfsonian Museum, Miami Florida. Commissioned by the Irish government for the League of Nations Building in Geneva, but rejected for its “scandalous” depictions, and ultimately sold by the Clarke family to Wolfson in 1988.
l CS Lewis’ wardrobe: much of the archive of the Belfast-born author, together with his dining room table and the family wardrobe, carved by his grandfather, is at the Marion E Wade Center in Illinois.
l The Eyrecourt Staircase: 17th-century carved masterpiece in storage at the Detroit Institute of Arts since 1950s.
l Louis le Brocquy’s A Family was offered to the municipal gallery in Dublin (now the Hugh Lane) in 1952. It was rejected, went on to win a prize at the 1956 Venice Biennale, and was subsequently bought by the Nestlé Foundation. The painting hung in its Milan headquarters until 2001, when Lochlann Quinn bought it for £1.7 million and donated it to the National Gallery of Ireland.