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Old 18 November 2011, 02:45 AM
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Roll eyes Getting your art into a museum

Comment: Dear Snopes,
I'm writing about an urban legend that I've known about for a while,
and that seems to be specific to artists. Artists work for years to be
recognized, and entering the collection of a major museum usually comes at
the middle or end of a productive and profitable career. But, there are
artists who believe that if they can get their work inside a museum,
regardless of who they are or what the art is, it has to be taken as a
gift and automatically becomes part of the museum's permanent collection.
I've always considered this legend a little absurd, as if the physical
walls of the gallery were some magical boundary and just getting your art
across the threshhold grants it special privileges.
But, there are artists who make small pieces of art specifically to try
this, smuggling the art in to the museum and covertly hanging it on a wall
in an inconspicuous place. I've even seen resumes of artists who have
done this and then list their work as being in the collection of that
museum (prestigious museums like the Met and the Guggenheim in NYC seem to
be common targets). Someone I went to graduate school at Syracuse
University tried this as well. I know that this doesn't work, because I'm
friends with some curators and know that even gifts to a museum have to be
vetted by the staff or even the board of trustees, but I'm still
interested in how the rumor might have gotten started. It's fairly
pervasive in the art world and even has multiple versions. For example,
I've heard a version of the rumor that states that this scheme will only
work at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. (most likely
started as a rumor because the National Gallery has a policy of not
selling works from their permanent collection).
This type of activity got some attention lately (2005, I think)
because the British grafitti artist Banksy smuggled his works into museums
in London and New York, but the practice predates that. Just curious as
to how the whole thing got started, as well as what the museums do with
all that work left behind by artists trying to back-door their way into
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  #2  
Old 18 November 2011, 03:07 AM
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At the risk of getting bounced into the "...with my own lyin' eyes" thread:

Several years ago, on a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art in NYC, there was, hanging on a wall in one of the smaller gallery rooms, a small rectangular canvas, about 12"x18", painted a uniform sort of turquoise blue. It wasn't even a monochromatic work that had some varied elements of brushwork or tone/shade; it looked as though someone had dipped a roller in a tray of Dutch Boy wall paint and applied a couple coats to the canvas. The tag below the canvas read:

Untitled
Oil on Canvas
Artist Unknown
Donated Anonymously, [year]


Those of us on the trip came to the conclusion that it must have been the result of a bet between some workmen at the museum.

In retrospect, I wonder if it wasn't a sort of "meta" in-joke (before "meta" was cool!) by an artist or even by museum curators. A case of pseudo-ostension?
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Old 18 November 2011, 08:30 AM
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musicgeek, it wasn't by Yves Klein, was it? He's mostly famous for inventing a shade of blue, and some of his canvasses are exactly like the one you describe. Possibly larger. There are a few in the Pompidou Centre in Paris. If it was a joke, then it's a "satire fail"....

(Klein is also the person who came up with the idea of painting by slapping his blue paint all over naked women, and then getting them to roll about on canvasses. The video of that is more entertaining than the plain blue canvasses - some of the results aren't bad either...)
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Old 20 November 2011, 09:07 PM
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Although there might be some museums in the world which accept every gift, I can't really imagine large, world-famous museums functioning that way. And the stories in the OP seem doubtful for several reasons:

Smuggling a painting into the museum and hanging it on the wall is almost as hard as smuggling it out. How could the artist hang it on the wall without someone noticing or the alarm system going off?

Just because an object is inside the building, it isn't part of the collection. It becomes part of the collection when it is in the inventory. If an artwork is donated officially, there is a correspondence between the donor who offers it and the museum that accepts it, before the work even arrives to the building. If there is no such correspondence, and someone just leaves a picture there, the museum has no obligation to take care of it.

Even if the museum had to keep the artwork in this case, there wouldn't be any obligation to exhibit it in the permanent exhibition. Museum collections don't just consist of the exhibited objects; there are many more artworks in storage.

Just because a museum has a policy of not selling anything, it doesn't mean that they have to accept everything.

Musicgeek, I can well imagine that what you saw was part of an installation by an artist who was playing around with the importance that is attached to the authors and provenance of artworks in the modern art world. It was probably there "officially".
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Old 20 November 2011, 09:32 PM
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The OP isn't looking for a debunking; he or she already knows that this is wrong (I'm not sure why snopes included an eyeroll, unless it's for the rambling quality of the email). This just sounds like any other "wishful thinking" UL to me, like the college ones, about not having to stay past 15 minutes, if the professor doesn't show up, or getting a 4.0 for the semester if your roommate dies. It's also got a little of the "beating the system" types, like how to beat a breathalyzer, with the exception that people who are trying to beat breathalyzers have been drinking and driving, which they shouldn't be doing, and an artist can be working had, and doing all the right things-- maybe even been to a prestigious art school, and still not "making it." Making it in an art field requires a certain amount of luck, and there are probably lots of actors as talented as Olivier, painters as talented as Paul Klee (I wanted to say Warhol, but that would start a huge hijack), or comedians as funny as Wanda Sykes. Well, almost as funny. She's pretty damm funny. Anyway, you get where I'm going. You can work really hard and still not get noticed. It's heartbreaking. I'm sure artists really wish something like this could be true. Collectively wish.

I never heard this UL before, but it sure doesn't shock me. In fact, I'll bet there's a movie in there somewhere.

I, personally, always wondered if it's a UL that an artist's work take's a sudden leap in value a soon as he dies, so that when there's a rumor someone is ill, people start quietly buying up his stuff as cheaply as they can, as an investment.

Anyway, I don't know if you could trace this to a source, unless it's in a short story, or something, or there really is a person who maybe got the idea from the UL, and tried to do this. If there isn't a short story yet, I'm going to start writing it tomorrow.
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Old 20 November 2011, 09:43 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by almond View Post
Just because a museum has a policy of not selling anything, it doesn't mean that they have to accept everything.
That's probably part of the UL, because "not selling" is somehow equal to "not getting rid of at all." I mean, the point is, that the National Gallery doesn't periodically have white elephant sales.

Aside from artists who might try to donate their own work, there are probably people who genuinely try to make donations that get turned down, like people trying to settle estates who try to make them for the tax write-off, but understandably donate a less desirable, or more obscure work, that the museum doesn't have any use for, and can't use for pocket change by auctioning it off. If it's true that the National Gallery doesn't ever sell paintings. The only reason I can think that it wouldn't is to not give greater value to a lesser painting by virtue of the fact that it "once hung in the National Gallery of the US." Or that releasing a well-known painting seems to make forgeries pop up-- one of the times the Mona Lisa was stolen, withing a few years, something like five copies popped up, and there are some people who still swear that the one now in the Louvre isn't the real one.

But, anyway, if the National Gallery doesn't sell, or toss in the dumpster, or let people paint over, donated paintings, then once you have gotten a painting into the Gallery, you can confidently say forevermore that it is there.
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Old 20 November 2011, 10:28 PM
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In the documentary movie, Exit Through the Gift Shop, we see the street artist Banksy smuggling his paintings into famous art galleries, hanging them up (with placards with the name, artist, and explanation).

He wasn't doing it to be taken seriously as an artist, though. He did it to subvert popular paintings (for example, he painted Monet's waterlilies with pollution and litter). He had to be fast and disguised, but the outcome was, to me, quite thought-provoking.
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Old 20 November 2011, 11:03 PM
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Anyone else seen the movie How to Steal a Million?
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Old 20 November 2011, 11:04 PM
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Museum policies vary around the world. I know that some US museums sometimes sell paintings; there are probably some that don't, and maybe the National Gallery is one of them. But in many countries the policy certainly says that once something is in the collection, it cannot be sold or given away. Museums don't collect things for their material value; they collect them to document cultural history. The reasoning behind the "not selling" policy is that curators and museum directors shouldn't apply the standards of their own age to cultural artefacts collected from an earlier age, because that would distort our understanding of that earlier age.

But the same policy cannot be applied to accepting objects, because storage capacities are not infinite. Anyway, my point is that even if you have a "not selling" policy, just getting the painting into the building does not mean that it is part of the collection. It has to be accepted and catalogued. It might be true that

Quote:
Originally Posted by RivkahChaya
But, anyway, if the National Gallery doesn't sell, or toss in the dumpster, or let people paint over, donated paintings, then once you have gotten a painting into the Gallery, you can confidently say forevermore that it is there.
but then "gotten a painting into the Gallery" means that your donation was evaluated by curators and they chose to accept it.
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Old 20 November 2011, 11:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by almond View Post
but then "gotten a painting into the Gallery" means that your donation was evaluated by curators and they chose to accept it.
Of course not. That was what I was trying to say. You can stick your painting behind an AC vent, then tell everyone "I have a painting in the National Gallery." Technically, yes, but you are being disingenuous, because that phrase has a stricter meaning beyond the literal one, when used by curators, et al.
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Old 21 November 2011, 10:51 AM
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A Swedish artist once claimed that one of his paintings had been hung in the Louvre, but after a couple of minutes a janitor found it on the lavatory wall and removed it.
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Old 21 November 2011, 01:21 PM
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One of the very few Tom Green snippets I saw was of him and his crew sneaking a painting he had created onto the walls of the National Art Gallery. He even had a sign created that looked exactly like the ones beside the real exhibits.

The humour came when he asked people what they thought, and when they commented on something (I believe that because it was abstract, there was nothing to latch the eye onto the painting) he would take out a marker and draw it in.

Eventually, it ended up with him being chased out of the gallery with security and police on his tail.
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Old 16 January 2012, 06:12 PM
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Quote:
Art student Andrzej Sobiepan didn't want to wait decades for his work to appear in museums. So he took matters in his own hands, covertly hanging one of his paintings in a major Polish gallery.
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/04/polish-art-student-hangs-_0_n_1183196.html
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