What good is a work of art that sits in a storage space, unseen by anyone? No good at all!!!
A wise man once said... something about a tree falling in a forest, and nobody is around. No matter how great a work of art may be, if nobody sees it or experiences it then its value, in the moment, is nil. Unexperienced art is not art at all, and more than “the notional idea of a good portrait” is the Mona Lisa. The failure to allow humans to experience art robs art of its value. It is cultural robbery! And it should not be tolerated from institutions that ostensibly exist to allow humans experience art.
What is the purpose of a museum? If you said “to allow humans to experience art,” please hang your head in shame as Aesthetics majors chuckle at your lack of sophistication. That is what the purpose of a museum should be. The actual purpose of a museum, among other, lesser purposes like “showing people art and stuff,” is to perpetuate the existence of the museum as an institution. Museums therefore stockpile huge holdings of art in storage facilities so that they can roll it out at such time it is deemed most beneficial for the reputation of the museum. Museums’ relationship to art is similar to billionaires’ relationships with their investment portfolios. The vast majority of the holdings of both museums and billionaires are unnecessary for their survival.
Here is an extremely distressing story by Christopher Groskopf in Quartz detailing exactly how much work by 13 major artists 20 museums around the world have on display and in storage. You, the art-appreciating public, may be surprised to learn that the majority of work by Kandinsky, Georgia O’Keefe, Calder, and Rothko sits unseen in storage. Only a little over half of Picasso’s work is on display. And this survey revealed that zero—zero!—of Egon Schiele’s works are currently being displayed, while the museum surveyed had 53 of his works in storage.
What the fuck is the point?
A space issue? A money issue? Pshaw. For the cost of a single room at the Metropolitan Museum, you could probably rent an entire warehouse in a cheap area of Queens and fill it with hundreds of works of art. Works of art that would be able to be seen by humans. A single great painting that is publicly accessible in a dirty warehouse has an infinitely greater utility than a hundred great paintings locked away in storage where no one can see them. But that would mean prioritizing the needs of humans, rather than the needs of powerful cultural institutions.
Hang the art in the subways. Hang the art in buildings. Hang the art on highway overpasses, and on billboards, and in schools. Hang the art anywhere people can see it. Let people see it. Set the art free. As it is now, museums are acting as prison guards preventing people from viewing a great deal of art. That is ridiculous.
(Also write graffiti all over the museums.)
[Photo of an Egon Schiele you are not allowed to see now: Getty]