Statement | Why the 8.1 million from Boijmans for a new Miró is not a good idea

How much can you do with 186 million That question arose after news emerged that the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam had bought the painting for 8.1 million euros Peinture Poème (Musique, Seine, Michel, Bataille et moi) (1927) from Joan Miró. The public followed a recognizable ritual: the museum called Miró a “new highlight of the collection”, “the most important surrealist work still missing” and “a dream painting” (huhuh), revealed Minister of Foreign Affairs Uslu, proud pictures, happy faces. No misunderstanding: Painting poem is a beautiful Miró, with all the trimmings: the groping vagueness of the brown background, the contrast with the hard orange sphere, the circles of dots that flicker gently in the sky, the text that refers to Miró’s subtle sense of synesthesia. An excellent addition to Boijmans’ not childish Surrealism collection, which also includes works by, among others, Magritte, Ernst, Tanguy, Delvaux, Dalí, Carrington and Picabia, of which ex-director Sjarel Ex likes to mention that they are sold all over the place. world on loan.

Still, they gnawed away at 8.1 million.

It was undoubtedly due, among other things, to the fact that the two Caspar van Wittels from Museum Flehite in Amersfoort from June, together 3 million, were still in the back of my mind. And Rembrandt costs DKK 175 million standard bearer from last January of course. There had been a discussion about the gigantic amount, but it was short-lived. First, because almost everyone in the art world thinks money is a rotten subject, but especially because everyone in this world is completely soft because of the way art and culture, even during corona, have been trivialized, minimized, even ridiculed . for years. No, there is no money for art and artists should not whine, which makes an inferiority complex an almost integral part of the identity of artists and institutions. And then no one really dared to complain, for God’s sake, 186 million. For four paintings. Would art still count?

I had a look at the website of the Mondriaan Foundation, which distributes funds in the Dutch visual arts sector on behalf of the government, and which contains an impressive list of activities that are supported, often even enabled, with that money. This varies from support to individual artists, maintenance of historical monuments, a contribution to the memory of the past of slavery, money to grant grants to galleries, to support important restorations. The foundation’s annual budget: DKK 30 million. EUR.

RembrandtThe Banner (1636) Photo Rijksmuseum

Six years of support

In fact, 30 million is less than a sixth of the amount spent on four paintings in the past ten months. Or better: with the money from these paintings, the Mondriaan Foundation had all the support measures and purchases and restorations and impulses for six years be able to double.

Let it sink in. Then you also see that the problem is very clear: the balance is gone. Completely disappeared. It is of course wonderful that the government and institutions such as the Rembrandt Society, the Mondriaan Foundation, the Vriendenloterij and the Foundation for the Promotion of People’s Power generously contribute to the purchase of, for example, a Miró. But the sums allocated to it are disproportionate, especially when compared to budgets for contemporary art in general.

The big problem here is that the providers of these amounts – amounts that could really make a big difference to Dutch art – no longer seem to be aware of what art actually stands for. Art is not about preservation (that comes later) or about status, art is so important, so essential because it is the only place in society where we humans can explore and celebrate our humanity: art is about unknown scenarios, thinking ahead, take risks. New beauty and new disruption. Open eyes.

Also read: Who will save Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen?

But the big money, the 186 million, goes to exactly the opposite: the Rijksmuseum’s 23rd Rembrandt or a beautiful but random Miró. It is not looking forward, but looking back – the culture of the rearview mirror. The funds and the government will undoubtedly choose this because it is safe (the investment has already proven itself), recognizable, so it can be easily sold as ‘important’ and the mug-and-moan risk can be limited. Such support can certainly be important from time to time. But because of the disproportionate amount of art money now being spent on it, the government and the foundations are steering the arts in the wrong direction.

No, I’m not going to sit here and romanticize the visionary museum directors of the past. But the fact is that directors like Sandberg and De Wilde [van het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam] has immeasurably enriched Dutch cultural heritage by taking such risks. Because of their daring and early investment, important figures of the second half of the twentieth century such as Willem de Kooning, Barnett Newman, Francis Bacon and even Picasso are represented in Dutch collections to an acceptable degree. And, not unimportant in this context: For relatively little money.

Only: the current generation of museum directors and fund managers still follows the same pattern or better: the same ideology, decades later, where the old white dead artist is the norm. While everyone also realizes that the world has changed, that we live in a time where the (art) world has become much bigger than New York, Paris and Wassenaar, and that images and stories that had been neglected in our society for years , is finally getting their deserved attention. If you want to do it justice, don’t buy Miró or Rembrandt, but finally have the audacity to choose Kerry James Marshall, Faith Ringgold, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, David Hammons or Ellen Gallagher – all world-famous, important black artists, as Dutch public collections are strongly underrepresented. And which would have much more influence on Dutch culture than a random Miró.


Caspar van WittelView of the Tiber in Rome with Castel Sant’Angelo (1714)

collection Museum Flehite/ René Gerritsen

Private initiatives

But is there anything else. The government and the foundations could also find a way to spend the money that is now being spent on such ‘vanity projects’ in a completely different way. Again: It seems that government, foundations and politicians have completely lost the realization that art and arts policy are very much about foresight, taking risks and daring to be visionary.

But this does not only apply to the purchase of works of art, but especially to think about the artistic infrastructure – art courses, presentation institutions, quality. In such cases administrators and administrators are quick to say ‘that these are simply different pots’, but that is precisely what should be changed: the realization must be realized that all those pots make up one art world and that the art world as a whole should have to to lobby, fight for a structurally better basis. This is done in the first place by not investing the art money, which is apparently the best, through the rearview mirror, but by putting it into the Dutch art climate of the future.

Anyone who keeps their eyes open knows that Dutch contemporary art is not doing well. There is not enough space for young artists to exhibit and develop. There are too few connections abroad, as a result of which talented artists do not grow. For example, in the past summer wave of Biennales (Venice, Berlin, Lyon, Manifesta, Documenta), there was hardly a Dutch artist to be found. Almost all Dutch galleries lead a languishing existence. Dutch museums, driven in part by the weight of their own income, are probably playing it more and more – and meanwhile 186 million will… well. It really could be better. Much better.

That is why I am curious about how relatively new private initiatives such as Droom en Daad (for all arts) and the Hartwig Kunstfond (for visual arts) will develop. They are viewed with some suspicion by the conservative part of the Dutch art world, but they do what is needed: they invest in talent development, often by artists of color, they support institutions such as Kunsthal and Kunstinstituut Melly, but they also contribute to the beautiful Marijke van Warmerdam exhibition in the Oud Amelisweerd or the Anne Imhof solo in the Stedelijk, spectacular even by international standards.

You feel these impulses immediately. It should happen a lot more. And it is also possible if the government, the associations, the friend lotteries and foundations and the cultural world as a whole come to realize two things: that large sums for culture are apparently easy to get, as long as you lobby well, and that it really pays off to invest in artists and art institutions with courage and vision. In short, by no longer pouring these 186 million into the endless pit of the past, but into an exciting, promising future.

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