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by Thomas Hoving
|I've been bumbling around about what to write for Y2K and beyond -- my last word, if you will -- and so compiled a Wish List for the art world. Among the subjects: the single greatest and most influential work of the past millennium; what should happen to the Elgin marbles; my acid views on current blockbuster exhibitions, censorship of art and art shows; ruminations about the newest styles and art tendencies; and a host of petty outrages that I was steaming over.
Then I decided to knock out all the crap and express one wish that if carried out would, I believe, fundamentally change the art world of America for the better, make everyone look and feel good, be acceptable to politicians of all ideologies, be cheap and be tremendously exciting.
The idea came to me as I was leafing through the Metropolitan Museum's annual acquisitions Bulletin on the way back from a speaking gig in Jackson, Miss.
The museum in kindly, hospitable and sophisticated Jackson is small, not loaded with money to enlarge the collections and hardly the place where grand blockbusters pay a visit. There are excellent, well-equipped museums like that across the country.
The Metropolitan has gathered up in the past year a thousand or so works of art ranging from footnotes to the lofty, adding to its some-say 3,000,000 pieces. Of these relatively few are on display -- even in the overloaded galleries that visually exhaust visitors within an hour. Across America there are a dozen museums like the Metropolitan, gloriously rich in goodies with never enough space to show them. The likes of the Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, the museums of Harvard, the Milwaukee Art Museum and so forth.
I wish these biggies would get together and on their own formulate an on-going, best-quality loan-show program to service all the smaller, regional museums throughout the country. Not just stuff from storage, but well-thought-out shows of all themes from their main body of works as well as those in their repositories.
Both the National Endowment and State arts agencies could put up the minimal funds to maintain the insurance and pay for the shipping costs and other expenses. If Congress really got its act in order it could pass a bill, not unlike the well-known Indemnity Act that gave birth to foreign blockbusters, that could be used for domestic shows to smaller institutions.
Would it work? You bet. When I was directing the Met I sent to a small college art museum in the mid-west one great work of art each month for the academic year. Why? One, because the Met's floater policy of $3 million could easily cover it. And two, because the impact of one superior work in the small museum would be huge. That was years ago and former students still contact me today to tell me how their lives were enhanced by seeing that group of masterpieces one by one. The Met picked up an amazing number of members. Legislators in that state still look upon the Met as something divine.
It's time that the fortunate institutions that are weighed down with glories move to spread their wealth throughout all of this country.
THOMAS HOVING is former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.