People sometimes complain about important artworks “disappearing into private collections.” And one can certainly see why: privately owned artworks are typically off-limits to anyone but their owners and their immediate circle of friends, family and associates. That’s when they bother to hang them, of course; the really valuable ones might end up in a bank vault somewhere, their value as aesthetic objects, or objects of meaning, subsumed by their sheer investment value.
However, a parallel phenomenon is not exactly unknown in public collections. While you don’t hear as much about works “disappearing into public collections,” it does happen a lot. For whatever reason, a lot of the works in public collections never get publicly shown, or if they do, very, very rarely. The reasons are probably various, and I’ll freely admit I’m speculating a bit here, but my sense is that one of the main reasons is that many of them don’t quite fit the curatorial vision for the shows that do get mounted. Perhaps the works are so out of fashion they never seem to come up as fodder for a retrospective, or possibly there are better examples in the collection of whatever historical moment they exemplify. Continue reading