Why do Museums borrow from Private Collections?
There are many reasons that museums lend their own collection and borrow from other institutions, and loans benefit both the lender and borrower in many ways. Rarely is the motivation for this to generate income, but to allow art to reach different audiences, increase the public awareness of a museum, complement and contextualize a collection, and develop national and global relationships between institutions and curators.
So, why do curators look outside museum collections when planning exhibitions, and what can private collections offer? We take a look at the key points below.
Choosing to display lesser known, and sometimes previously unseen, ‘artworks from private collections gives curators the opportunity to develop their knowledge of an artist's oeuvre’, says Exhibition Research Assistant, Bethany Wratislaw. It allows new connections with known pieces in public collections to flourish, which ‘enhances exhibitions both in terms of research and content, offering the public new perspectives and enriching their experience by bringing to light artworks that are never usually on public display’.
One of the most infamous examples of this was the inclusion of the now globally recognisable Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci, which, when it was included in the UK National Gallery’s 2017 exhibition, was a privately owned and rarely exhibited object whose authorship was debated. According to Johnathan Jones, it was a bold move by the museum to include it as a ‘rediscovered' piece, but they believed that the exhibition was the ‘perfect place to test the painting against Leonardo's established work’. For Jones, one of the most exciting things about this discovery was 'the light it cast on Britain’s relationship’ with Leonardo, that showed the 'national love affair with the Renaissance polymath has been going on for almost 400 years’.
Private collections also offer curators the chance to explore the works of lesser-known artists, and displaying these pieces alongside renowned works in blockbuster exhibitions gives an important platform to many minority artists whose work may not yet be in national collections.
Just like loan collaborations between museums allows curators to build global networks, working with individual collectors also gives museums the chance to foster relationships within the private art sector.
One of the biggest obstacles that curators can face when searching for loans, according to Dr. Franz Kaiser, of Hamburg's Bucerius Kunst Forum , is actually ‘locating works in private collections’ in the first place. Objects are hard to track down, and relationships with new collectors can often be tricky to establish. The Vastari platform is opening new channels of communication between curators and collectors, enabling these collaborative partnerships to flourish, and bridging the gap between the public and private art sectors.
Unlike museum loans which need months, sometimes years, of collaborative planning, private loans can be executed in a much shorter time if the object is available.
Vastari can aid this process significantly, and recently a Kunsthalle in Germany were successful in obtaining an artwork in less than two weeks - a turnaround unheard of between public institutions.
The speed of private loans, the chance to develop new collaborative relationships, and the extended pool of resources that private collections offer curators, are just a few of the benefits that come from private loans. These are key factors for Dr. Franz Kaiser, and something he feels museums must heavily consider when planning exhibitions ‘in a time when acquiring loans from public art institutions is becoming more and more problematic’.