State of the Art?

So you bought a little art and you kinda wonder what’s in your—and its—future. Read on.

Illustration by Tom Tomkinson

Inge Reist is the director of the Center for the History of Collecting in America at the Frick Collection and Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

“There will always be art of the ­moment, but right now I think we’re taking ephemeral art very seriously and I don’t know if that will last. Some great old masters used to do similar things, like Rubens designed and made parade apparatuses, what we would call floats today. They were great floats, but they were meant to celebrate the triumphal arrival of a monarch into a city, not as works of art to last. Through digital archiving and some conceptual art, we seem determined to preserve art that is essentially created for the moment. There’s a sense of inner panic we feel that we might be letting something go, and I’d bet that in 20 years we’ll have a different view.”

Richard McCoy is a conservator of objects and variable art at the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

“Collecting is going to get more and more complicated. Collectors are going to need to develop a greater awareness of what exactly they’re getting and the cost and method of what it’s going to take to maintain it. A lot of art is based on current technology and that technology is going to change within three to five years, which means that the maintenance needs of that art are constantly changing too. We have a Robert Irwin installation that uses fluorescent light bulbs that in the very near future you won’t be able to get because they contain too much mercury. But those are the bulbs that Bob likes, so we bought about 25 years’ worth of them. When you think about a 2,000-year-old European bronze statue, those objects and that material have something to say about eternalness. But a lot of art isn’t speaking in that language anymore.”

Mera Rubell and her husband, Don, have amassed a huge collection of contemporary art over the last 47 years, now displayed at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

“Two things can happen: The collectors can take on the big and costly endeavor to exhibit their collection in their own space, or museums and collectors can sit down and really­ figure out how to work together. There’s the old paradigm where the collector shows the work in a museum and essen­tially uses the museum as a vehicle to appreciate the value of the collection, and then at the end of the collector’s life the museum says, ‘Give me your art or give me your money.’ That has to change, but we don’t have the new paradigm that makes the collector and the institution both feel comfortable having a real relationship yet. That’s what the future should be.”

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