Contemporary art gifts are like snowflakes. While they all share the same chemical composition, no two are identical. Museum directors can't pull a "best practices" white paper of the shelf and superimpose a one-sizefits-all-approach to their institution.
That's too bad, particularly in a philanthropic climate where the rush for contemporary art reminds us of the electronics section of Target at 5 a.m. on Black Friday (which is only approximately 79 days away, in case you're keeping track at home).
All that being said, there are still important lessons we can occasionally glean from recent gives. Take news out of Nashville, for example. The Tennessee State Museum received of gift, made by Walter and Sarah Knestrick of Nashville, of 238 graphic artworks created by internationally acclaimed artist Red Grooms.
Grooms, who was born and raised in Nashville and currently lives in New York City, is a prolific painter, sculptor, and printmaker. He is best known for his colorful pop-art constructions depicting "impossibly busy cityscapes." Executive Director Lois Riggins-Ezzell called the gift, which consists of Groom’s graphic work spanning more than 40 years from 1956-99, "the singularly most significant collection of contemporary art ever donated" to the museum.
Groom himself chimed in, saying, "I so appreciate my dear old friend Walter Knestrick taking it upon himself to collect each and every one of my graphic works over the years. Which makes the Knestrick Collection gift to my home state museum both unique and particularly special."
We call your attention to the words "dear old friend." Indeed, Knestrick, the retired founder of Walter Knestrick Contractor, Inc. and former president of Cheekwood's Fine Arts Department, was a boyhood classmate of Grooms. They met in fifth grade at Burton School in Nashville. In 1955, while they were both Hillsboro High School seniors, Grooms and Knestrick were featured in a two-man show at Nashville's Lyzon Gallery. They have a history. And therein lies the rub.
If we could distill one prominent theme coursing through all recent contemporary arts gives, it would be this: relationships matter. Does it sound like a corny platitude? Yes? Is it patently obvious? Yes. But is it nonetheless important and true? Why, yes it is.
For example, we recently looked at how art collector, architect, and Schenectady, New York resident Werner Feibes provided a major bequest of art and cash to the Hyde Collection, totaling more than $11 million. The gift builds upon Mr. Feibes' previous donation of 55 modern and contemporary works to the Hyde in 2015.
We also reported on how art collectors Francie Bishop Good and David Horvitz promised 100 of their 800 works to the NSU Art Museum in Fort Lauderdale. Not coincidentally, the donors also sit on the museum's board.
In short, most contemporary arts gives, not surprisingly, don't occur in a vacuum nor do they traverse great distances. They come from the donor next door. They're decades in the making. And so we'll let the artist in question, evoking imagines of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, have the last word.
"Walter and I shared boyhood experiences, horsing around on dangerous railroad bridges, digging underground tunnels and challenging the boys from the other side of the tracks to rock fights,” Grooms said. "All along we backed each other’s interest in art."