Museum, Inc.

Responding to my interest in the financial roles played by fine art (e.g. how it is used to launder money and how museum shows are used to maintain or increase the value of art collections), an art historian friend recently lent me Paul Werner’s Museum, Inc.: Inside the Global Art World (Prickly Paradigm Press, 2005). Werner shoots from the hip, at times with dazzling, witty results, and at times leaving a reader (or this reader) scratching his head and wishing Werner had worked through his material and ideas more thoroughly. A few quotes (and quips) here:

Traditional museums (which usually look like old-style bans to begin with) are about preserving cultural capital by maintaining assets through good conservation, supporting the scholarship that maintains the value of the assets, sponsoring shows that support the scholarship that maintains or raised the value of the assets, leveraging their assets through loans and exhibitions that drive up attendance and consolidate the symbolic value of these assets and this type of asset in general to begin with, and this is the house that Morgan built, and Frick, and Rockefeller.

[T]he American art museum shores up its authority by, while, and in order to demonstrate that the values of free enterprise are conterminous with the values of art.

People are now welcome to witness their own powerlessness—that was the only freedom left to them, and the only democracy. [And, later:] Democracy is a performance for the benefit of the actors.

Readers may conclude, inter alia, that I am still looking for works—and indeed Zeteo submissions—on the financial roles played by fine art.

— Wm. Eaton, Zeteo Executive Editor

One comment

  1. Daniel D'Arezzo

    The nexus of art and money (and museums and collectors and dealers) doesn’t apply to poetry, music, dance and other non-plastic arts. I recently read a blog on the Poetry magazine website that, instead of lamenting the fact that poems don’t make money, celebrated the freedom of the artist who is making art for art’s sake and for the sake of the artist’s sanity. Even the painters and sculptors whose works are in museums are usually not part of the moneyed world unless they become famous in their lifetimes, as they so rarely do.

    I’m curious about Werner’s statement that “People are now welcome to witness their own powerlessness.” What does he mean? Are we peons supposed to feel powerless when we visit the Henry R. Kravis Wing at the Metropolitan Museum because we are not Henry Kravis? Of course I realize that it took a lot of money to build the Metropolitan and its collection, but that isn’t what I think about when I go there. I go to see the art–to amuse myself–and I’m glad that the art is in the museum and not in my apartment.

    When I consider the sins of global capitalism, collecting art seems the least of them. Building museums may, in fact, be atonement.


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