Old Masters, New Frontiers
In May 2018, Yuan was invited to present at the Long Museum in Shanghai for the inaugural Museum 2050 symposium, investigating the future of the cultural institutions in China alongside speakers including Philip Tinari, director of UCCA in Beijing and Erlend Høyersten, director of ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum in Denmark. Having witnessed the private museum boom in China, with something like 350 private museums being built annually, European Old Masters is arguably the most underrepresented form of fine art in this region. As one of the first Chinese natives to specialise in this segment of the art market, Yuan shared her observations and thoughts about the current market and curatorial practices in the West which could prove helpful in thinking about the future of collecting and sharing of Old Masters in China. Her presentation paper will be included in a forthcoming publication.
Museum 2050: A Private Museum for European Old Masters in China?
My presentation focuses on the future of European Old Master in the private museum sphere in China. Currently among all the Chinese private museums, there is not a single one with a substantial body of works by European artists before 1900, despite the fact that museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are populated with Chinese visitors. The absence of a private museum with a significant collection of, if not dedicated to European Old Masters, will most likely change by 2050.
As an Old Master art dealer, I became aware that one of the major concerns for ambitious new collectors in our field, who may or may not plan to build their collection into a private museum, is that there are not enough good works available on the market to create a respectable collection.The real question to be asked is if one wishes to build a significant collection of Old Masters to share with the public, how should they approach it? Should they be modeling it after the Louvre, organizing artworks according to chronology and School, or should they look at another prototype, or even invent their own?
I use Norton Simon Museum and The Getty as examples of comprehensive museums created in living memory that are based on the traditional historical museum model. This historicizing model has existed since the late 18th century and perhaps should not be the only guideline in presenting Old Masters – in fact, many leading museums are actively redesigning their layout to reflect this concern.
I also talk about the newly opened Louvre Abu Dhabi – what we can think of as the first ‘globalized branch’ of an Old Master Museum. It has its own Old Master paintings collection (with the Da Vinci Salvator Mundi being the most high-profile work) and borrows significant works from the Louvre itself. It is thematically organized around twelve subjects, mixing art from different cultures and different periods. In recent years, many special exhibitions in leading art institutions have also been keen on such trans-historical thematic exhibitions; e.g. Met Breuer ‘Unfinished’ and ‘Like Life’; National Gallery, London ‘Monochrome’. This reflects the eclectic taste of top collectors nowadays – which feeds back into the market, and then back into the museum world. Unlike the historicizing model, thematically curated museums could be a much better way of expressing the collector’s individuality and taste.
To conclude, I discuss the Leiden Collection and the Kremer Collection, both very focused collections of Dutch Old Master paintings that are shared with the public without physically having a dedicated museum space.❖