The Buda Castle overlooks the river Dura and the Pest side of Hungary’s capital city – it is a magnificent relic of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and for all intents and purposes, beautifully maintained.
Walking through the gallery looking at the works of Salvador Dali, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray et al, I was struck by the pieces themselves – the bold colours, the twinkling satire, the purposeful inattentiveness just so.
I was also intrigued by the various descriptions below the names of the artists and the titles accompanying them – those that described the owners of the works. In this case, the exhibit offered a look at the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
In other visits to Art Galleries and Museums along my travels, I started to pay particular attention to this detail and discovered the various models associated with showcasing the world’s great masterpieces.
Exchange & Loan
In the case of the Hungarian exhibition, the showcase was enabled by a common practice in the art world – the loan, or in legal terminology, a bailment.
The loaning of art typically involves two parties – the borrower and the lender. The “General Principles on the Administration of Loans and Exchanges of Works of Art Between Institutions” provides a set of best practices recognised by some of the world’s leading galleries and museums – the Louvre in Paris, London’s National Gallery and the Musée d’Orsay amongst them. Local law statutes can also set precedents of behaviour.
The arrangement is one of good faith and requires the borrower to cover all costs associated with the transportation, insurance, and publicity associated with the exhibition. On its side, the lender has to make all possible efforts to minimise those said costs.
Once these costs are covered, the arrangement typically does not go any further. In some cases, loan fees are charged, goods and services are exchanged, counterloans are offered and in the context of a partnership i.e. an exhibition tour.
There are some interesting situations in these agreements – particularly in matters surrounding the insurance of these often priceless artefacts. As The Economist reported back in 2001, transport and theft are the two biggest threats to an exhibited piece of art and still are today. The risk of which can be minimised by ensuring strict adherence to the best packaging and transport practices.
According to the same article, many museums do not actually cover the works. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”, for example, was not insured when it was stolen from the Oslo National Gallery in 1994. This is because of both a shortage of risk management expertise in the industry and a lack of funds.
For the US, Australia and the UK, governments have stepped in with indemnity schemes. The government will often provide cover to those exhibitions coming from overseas to ensure that these cultural exchanges continue to take place.
The Great Exhibition
Art exchanges and partnerships have also become a popular means of exhibiting art internationally. The Biennale showcasing the latest sculptural designs and experimentations comes to mind as a pre-eminent example of an exhibition that tours the works via a network of galleries and museums.
Hailing from the era of the Great Exhibitions of the Victoria and Albert type, the Biennales around the world are designed to show off the world’s latest and greatest works of art.
The 19th Biennale of Sydney: You Imagine What You Desire was a particularly fascinating collection. Held across a number of locations in the NSW capital including the old convict prison and historic shipyard at Cockatoo Island, the pieces of sculpture were scattered amongst old living quarters and factory buildings.
A giant visualisation of a waterfall was projected on a wall of a warehouse replete with the sound of the thunderous recording of the real natural feature, bubbles of plastic resided content in a workshop and a mini train set carried people under the rockface in the middle of the Island.
All of the artworks were collected for the purpose of generating cultural interchange and global connections amongst artists. Participation and selection is made by the Artistic Directors of the Programme.
Unlike Museums and Art Galleries, the Biennale is not institutionally driven, though the Australian Council of the Arts and The Australian Visual Arts and Crafts Strategy team are involved. It operates as a non-profit organisation that uses sponsorship as a means to cover the costs of exhibiting. This means that the artworks are selected by the organisers and are in turn, usually provided courtesy of the artist themselves or the owners not as a collection or exchange between museums.
The House Collection
As Te Papa, the National Museum of New Zealand will attest, the right to exhibit one’s own collections is not always practiced. Many of the artworks are and remain kept within the confines of underground vaults beyond of the access to the common public.
For the Leopold Museum in Vienna, this is most certainly not the case with the latest exhibit of the work of Egon Schiele’s work. The collection was again the result of an individual’s passion for an artist – Professor Rudolf Leopold – who started collecting the works in the 1950s and amassed a collection of 6,000 pieces.
A contemporary of Klimt whose life and work was cut short by the Spanish Influenza of 1918, Schiele’s style pushes the boundaries of the Succession style. His vibrant brush strokes and fragmentation of reality is undercut by the etchings of pencil that flow through many of his artworks.
Almost all the works from the collection including paintings and sketches were laid out across three floors. Separating the works into different periods, the artistic directors were able to demonstrate the breadth of the artist’s short career.
There was a collection outlining the paintings of the artist. Another showed the works alongside contemporaries such as Albin Egger-Lienz, Hans Strohofer, and Anton Faistauer, as demonstrated in the work they produced during WWI. Finally, the sketches and etchings for which he was well known were again showed next to the same contemporaries and community as a means of demonstrating the variety of influences involved in these works.
Given the relationships the Leopold Museum has with a few others around the world, this is unlikely to be the last the world sees of Schiele and his contemporaries. With the number of loans and exchange programmes around the world, the only question may be: where and when will it be next?