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MoMA Down Under

The Museum of Modern Art in New York [MoMA] and the Art Gallery of Western Australia [AGWA] have recently entered into a unique agreement. AGWA will be showcasing items from MoMA’s collection in a series of six exhibitions scheduled over three years, as if it were an international outpost.

The two museums have entered into a partnership which officially launches in June 2012. The Modern Masters exhibit, comprised of many items from MoMA’s permanent collection, will be the first to travel to Australia next year. According to the Australian, the items in this exhibit have “rarely been seen outside of US.”

It is interesting to think of the issues involved in bringing artworks to an underserved location. From a cultural standpoint, one might ask whether or not this would have any real impact. Arts Minister John Day said, “People [in Perth] want high-quality events, including in the cultural sector, and we’re certainly making a statement about that.” From a legal standpoint, one might wonder what the contract looks like. How is the sensitive issue of transport being handled and who is covering the insurance bills? More importantly, what is MoMA getting in return? According to the Australian, the government of Western Australia allocated $6 million in the recent budget to help with underwriting the cost of the exhibition. However, the details are still unclear.

Why hasn’t there been more hype about this, in the US in particular? Judith Dobrzynski speculates, “I’m guessing that MoMA fears it will be accused of renting out its collection and/or of subjecting precious works to the conservation issues that traveling always present — not to mention absenting these works from MoMA’s own visitors[…] And, of course, there’s the fee: museums aren’t supposed to profit from lending their collections; they’re just supposed to cover their costs.” Ms. Dobrzynski adds that museums do have to raise money, and lending has actually become very common.

Other creative arrangements between museums include rotating loans of items of cultural property and international touring exhibitions.

Read about the MoMA/AGWA deal at The Australian and Limelight