A Museum Nets an Epic Contemporary Art Windfall—But There's a Catch

In this, our most recent installment of IP-as-Masters-of-the-Obvious, we'd like to propose the following.

If art organizations seek to better engage certain demographics—namely females and minorities—they should put on shows featuring females and minorities.

Sounds simple enough, right? Right. No disagreements? We didn't think so.

Great. So why isn't everyone doing it?

For starters, much of valuable artwork created by females and minorities is contemporary in nature, and as we've noted repeatedly on IP, contemporary art is all the rage, but in short supply. What's more, when collectors like Donald and Shelley Rubin or J. Tomilson Hill start their own foundation and gallery rather than donate the work, it exacerbates scarcity, thereby driving prices up even further.

In short, there isn't much of the stuff to go around.

And so it's against this backdrop that we present thoroughly encouraging news out of South Florida, where art collectors Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz promised 100 of their 800 works to the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale. More than 90 percent of the collection is by women and "emphasizes minority artists."

"What’s amazing about this is the core of our contemporary collection is now women artists—not only women but African-American and multicultural artists," said director Bonnie Clearwater. "It gives us a wonderful foundation that will impact the direction the collection will go."

Needless to say, Ms. Good and Mr. Horvitz were a prescient pair. Way back in the early 1990s, when female artists weren't on many gallery radars—much less on their walls—the duo began buying art predominantly by women. Ms. Good, an artist herself and an NSU Art Museum board member, found the work inspiring for her own practice. (Mr. Horvitz, meanwhile, is the chairman of the museum's board.)

And it's precisely because of the pair's prescience (!) that this story is somewhat of an anomaly. In other words, while we're heartened by it's development, it isn't the kind of approach that other museums can hope to successfully emulate. 

For starters, the museum was blessed with two board members who were not only ahead of the contemporary art curve, but also turned out to be rather generous individuals. And when we mean generous we mean generous: Mr. Horvitz and Ms. Good gave director Clearwater "free rein" to pick from their collection for the museum, which had "spotty holdings" in the contemporary area.

Needless to say this kind of perfect storm doesn't come around very often.

In fact, a telling contrast would be the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Not only are they frantically playing contemporary art catch-up, but, as previously noted, J. Tomilson Hill is starting his own gallery rather than donate the work to the Met, where he serves as a trustee.

"The Met needs everything I've got," Hill said, before presumably taking a drawn-out and mildly sadistic puff on his cigar.