Art Institute Of Chicago Becomes Whiter And More Male With New $400 Million Acquisition

The Art Institute of Chicago just got a huge gift: $400 million worth of contemporary artworks from philanthropists Stefin Edlis and Gael Neeson, including nine Warhols and works by Cy Twombly, Jeff Koons, Charles Ray, Richard Prince, Roy Lichtenstein, Gerhard Lichter, and Cindy Sherman.

Great, right? Eh. I really don’t think so. The problem, to me, is many-sided, but it starts with the fact that the Art Institute already has seminal artworks by many of these artists and builds to the fact that part of the acquisition of these artworks came with a guarantee that they would be displayed for the next 50 years. This is bad.

I might have a little bit of sour grapes, here. My soulmate artwork, Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ “Untitled (Portrait of Ross in L.A.)” has been off display for months, and for months going forward, the entire contemporary collection post-1960 is going to be off display to make room for a Charles Ray exhibit. The entire collection past 1960 to make room for one artist. It’s insane. Most of the museum’s major exhibits take place in Regenstein Hall, which is designated for special exhibitions, and doesn’t interfere with the rest of the collections. That is, for instance, where the recent and extensive Magritte exhibit was showcased. Unfortunately, the Ray exhibit is going to be overlapping with a current exhibit on Irish art that’s being displayed in Regenstein Hall, so it had to find a home elsewhere, and apparently the patrons of the Art Institute who care deeply about and enjoy the Morrises and Gonzalez-Torreses and Hesses and more recent artworks can go to the Museum of Contemporary Art instead, I guess.

That’ll be the case until October 4. Then, three months later, this new acquisition will go on display and stay on display for FIFTY YEARS. This makes me anxious for a variety of reasons, but mainly, it’s that the modern wing just isn’t that big and doesn’t really have space to expand. So what happens to the other artists? What happens to the other art? The thing is, most of this artwork is made by white men, and women and people of color have been trying to eke out a place in galleries and museums, eke out representation, for decades. Most of these artworks exist outside of long-standing concerns in the art world about identity.  I have loved the Art Institute’s collection because it’s diverse and representational. I have learned from it. I’ve become more empathetic because of it.

But this Edlis/Neeson deal is just a bad deal. It’s bad for the public inasmuch as continuing to represent white guys — there is not a single person of color named in this acquisition and only Cindy Sherman to represent women — entrenches the idea, for girls and children of color who aspire to be artists, that the art world isn’t for them. And make no mistake: The Art Institute will be proud to name itself as an educational institution for children to visit. It’s bad for artists for obvious reasons. And on top of this poorly-planned Ray exhibit, it just feels like the Art Institute’s contemporary collection could be distilled down to a giant caucasian phallus. Again, I could have sour grapes, here. But it bothers me a lot.

So I don’t know, Art Institute. Congrats on your acquisition. While I agree that these artworks are better held in the public trust, I’m so sorry that in order to get them, you had to push women and people of color to the wayside for an entire half-century. AIC chairman Robert Levy claims that “it’s all good” for the city of Chicago, but excuse me to disagree completely. This is, in fact, everything that’s wrong with the art world.

[Chicago Tribune]

[Image via Getty]

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