Art historian and advisor Renée Steenbergen has long argued for more attention to cultural patronage in the Netherlands, although not without critical comment. Her book, De nieuwe mecenas. Cultuur en de terugkeer van het particuliere geld, has recently been released.
‘I don't necessarily think it is always a good development when private collectors establish their own museums. It fragments museum structure, precisely there where collaboration should be paramount. However you look at it, the interests that a private collector has in a museum do not always run parallel with the museum’s traditional public objectives. Collectors have to be invited to think about how they can work together with museums, but to achieve that, we need a change in mentality on the part of museum managements. I am a proponent of a good dialogue between private collectors and museums, for example, by setting up a collectors’ association, where people can look at the possibilities for working together and reaching agreement on ideas or artistic preferences.
I am convinced that the museum world will look completely different in 20 years time. You could say that the age of the regular national museums is over. They will keep their inherited task, but they will continue to have increasing competition from more intimate, richer private museums. The creation of really big collections, notably contemporary and modern art developed since the 1970s, will also come to a halt as a result of the exorbitant prices, and I wonder if that is such a bad thing. In The New York Times, I read a study of American museums which showed that people primarily visit museums for their permanent collections. You do not have to purchase every new work by a young artist.In that sense, there is already an enormous reservoir amongst the collectors. There are also people who want museums to operate more strategically within the art market, for example, as the Tate does with its strategic alliance with a variety of different museums. That could have worked wonders for the four art institutions on Amsterdam's Museumplein. You could think of more examples from that perspective. He who is not strong has to be clever, because it is certain that the museum field will change radically in the future.’
‘With the rise of private parties in the contemporary visual art market, museums have to beware of letting themselves be put in a vulnerable negotiating position. I would absolutely not advise temporary loans, for example. It is not in the interest of the museum, because people can recall works on loan with impunity and go out and sell them on the market. In England, they are debating a new law that would stipulate that if works are on loan to a museum for five years or more, 5% of the profit from selling them has to be donated to the museum. I have spoken with a lot of collectors and know that many of the major givers come from the business world. These are people who think business right to the bitter end. There is no point in being romantic.In that sense, you need to educate the givers a bit and leave no openings for abuse. We can applaud the new forms of patronage that are emerging. Setting up organizations for giving is one form of collective patronage. A personal fortune foundation is another, an individual form that gives the founder the possibility of having a great deal to say about where his donations go. Examples in the Netherlands include the Turing Foundation and the VandenEnde Foundation. Or there is the fact that there are more and more young collectors, the rapidly rising incomes of the generations under 50 years old, all important factors in this new giving behaviour.’
Renée Steenbergen, De nieuwe mecenas. Cultuur en de terugkeer van het particuliere geld, Business Contact/Het Financieele Dagblad, 2008. € 24.90