The Art Institute of Chicago has acquired a collection of contemporary art that they describe as the 'largest' in their history (it's been misreported as 'greatest'). It includes artists I like (Jasper Johns and Gerhard Richter) and artists I don't (Warhol, Koons, Hirst). But some people like that sort of thing, and there's no question that the art is a worthy addition to the Institute's collection. It's a bad acquisition not because of the pictures, but because they paid too high a price, agreeing to display the collection together for fifty years. That is not really a gift. It's an expensive acquisition that hands over a public space and subverts it to the whim of vain plutocrats.
Donors Stefan T. Edlis and Gael Neeson are buying themselves a memorial, over-riding judgments of more expert curators and over-riding the changing views of posterity to insist that their taste is imposed for half a century, that their pictures are shown whilst other, perhaps better pictures are consigned to storage. If the importance of the collection were beyond doubt then the condition would be unnecessary. The collection's focus on the most currently fashionable artists makes it especially vulnerable to changing taste, and I suspect that future curators and visitors will bitterly regret this acquisition.
The press release disingenuously claims that the museum itself proposed the condition. That trivial piece of spin disgusts me far more than the condition itself. The museum has not only given them gallery space, it implies that the plutocrats' generosity is untainted by conditionality. They get to eat their cake and have it; they take over part of the museum for half a century, and pretend that it was some one else's idea. They get a grand boastful memorial that imposes a cost on the public, and they get to be presented as modest and public-spirited. The museum prostitutes itself twice over, first in handing over the galleries, and second in surrendering its dignity.
Museums should have the courage to turn down costly bequests like this, which do themselves and their patrons no favours. The Institute is already stuffed to the rafters with treasures. Unless they're adding another wing (or maybe subdivide the big atrium they built for parties), showing these pictures means not showing better pictures. Just say no, kids.