A matchmaker for museums? This new startup wants to connect art collectors with institutions seeking to acquire adventurous work.


In the absence of large-scale government support, museums in the United States have long relied on their trustees for donations and loans, and many have therefore felt accountable to their interests.

Museum veteran Michael Darling, outgoing chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, aims to shake up that momentum by launching a new startup next month that could open up collecting possibilities for museums and potentially free them from the chains of their trustees.

Museum Exchange, the digital platform that Darling co-founded with artistic advisers David Moos and Robert Wainstein, presents itself as a new model of philanthropy. It allows museums to access works of art donated by collectors outside of their established donor base.

The platform’s goal is to “streamline, update and democratize the way museums collect,” Moos, who was previously curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, told Artnet News. “There are many under-analyzed and little-discussed characteristics of how institutions collect. Once we started to develop this idea, it became clear that Museum Exchange is a platform that could improve many inefficiencies in the industry.

For example, museum collections have generally reflected art in their community, Moos said, “and by that I mean the collections of their trustees and loyal supporters, the people who are most connected and invested in the world. ‘institution’, a factor that sometimes dictates what art the museum feels obligated to acquire and show.

The local patronage system comes with “great triumphs and great loopholes,” Moos said. “Museums cultivate these relationships and trustees reciprocally cultivate their relationship with the institution and it becomes a bit of a closed circuit which is not necessarily healthy. Museum Exchange aims to level the playing field.

The platform could be a boon for museums looking to diversify their exhibits and show more historically under-represented artists.

“As we chat with collectors, we will focus on integrating works by artists of color into the offering,” said Darling. “IThis could be looking for collectors who we already know collect inclusively ”or educating collectors about artists and works they can pay attention to. “I feel like we could stimulate that, including giving them the perspective of museums that want to tell a different story.”

On the museum side, the platform plans to bring together institutional wishlists and identify gaps in the collections.

“The There is still a lot of redundancy in the local collections, ”said Darling. “You could have a group of an artist or a particular type of art school. These works could be redistributed and have a greater impact elsewhere. “

He will also find out from collectors what works they are willing to donate, then meet these needs.

The service will cost museums, currently limited to those in the United States and Canada, an annual subscription of $ 1,000 per year. Catalogs listing newly available works will be compiled quarterly.

Curators will present a case to collectors why a particular work is appropriate for their institution. At the end of the quarter, the donor examines all cases presented by interested museums and makes a decision. “This gives the donor a choice of which museum might be the best fit for them, depending on geography issues, the size of the institution and what the museum plans to do with this object,” Moos said.

Once a donor selects a museum and a match is established, the donor is then put in direct contact with the museum. But Museum Exchange remains involved in the whole process, guiding it from shipping to evaluation to processing. In the end, donors pay an administrative fee of approximately $ 500.

Museum Exchange began a trial in October with a dozen participating museums, including the Blanton Museum in Austin, Texas, and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York.

“Often times, this is a multi-step and cumbersome process,” Moos said. “So there are efficiencies when you start doing a lot.

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