Thoughts on Museum Success II: Loans and Collection Relevance

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 13 November 2014, this is the second in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

As I sit down to write the second of these musings about museum success, I find myself in Manhattan preparing to visit an exhibition of portraits by Egon Schiele, to which the Ackland has lent its splendid drawing of a woman (right). Indeed, at the moment, Ackland works are in special exhibitions in Essen, Germany; Los Angeles; Princeton, New Jersey; Jackson, Mississippi; and elsewhere. On my desk in Chapel Hill is a letter from the Metropolitan Museum of Art asking to borrow what is perhaps our greatest painting: Valentin de Boulogne’s St. John the Evangelist (below), and I anticipate soon receiving a request to send our Cleopatra and the Peasant by Eugene Delacroix to Minneapolis and London.

Each of these loans is, of course, unique in its circumstances. Each is evaluated on its own merits. But in the aggregate, can we not see the level of loan activity as a rough measure of success? It reflects the extent to which the Ackland has built a collection that can resonate with the current interests of art publics in many different contexts. We preserve art for posterity, but we also want our collection to engage with contemporary concerns in as many ways as possible. Statistics on loan traffic can signal the current relevance of the collection (as can the number of times in any one Continue reading

Thoughts on Museum Success I: Museums Nurturing Artists

Originally published in the Ackland’s Member E-Newsletter of 3 November 2014, this is the first in a series of ruminations on how museums measure success.

Those who work in and around art museums often turn their minds to the thorny question: how do we measure our success? It is a challenging and stimulating question which can lead off into unexpected avenues. I thought I’d share with you some of my own brief ruminations on this question. I do hope that I hear from you with your comments and ideas on this. Feel free to e-mail me at peter.nisbet@unc.edu — I hope to report on interesting ideas. Collectively, we may come up with some good answers!

Let me begin with a simple anecdote. The very first exhibition of my professional career was a show of drawings by the radical and experimental German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), an artist I deeply admire. The details of the show aren’t relevant here; I want to focus on a dinner party conversation shortly afterwards. I found myself seated next to a sculptor, who, without knowing who I was, spoke movingly and at length about how this exhibition had Continue reading