For Citizens of the WorldJuly 6, 2016
I have always believed that the role of a collector is to conserve, not to possess. This belief was one of the key driving forces behind my decision to promise my Cubist Collection to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2013. I didn’t consider creating my own museum; rather I knew from the start, some 30 years ago, that I would donate to a public institution.
A museum is known by the strength of its collection. Through strong collections, museums are able to attract more visitors, and are able to enrich the lives of many more people throughout the world. It is the role of today’s major private collectors—regardless of where they are or what they collect—to support and grow as many institutions as possible.
An example of this philosophy, and one I was honored to be part of, was a collective giving effort led by the board of the Whitney Museum of American Art in which 87 landmark post-war and contemporary works of art were given. Formally known as “An American Legacy: A Gift to New York,” it transformed the Whitney into a museum of world renown. It was a gift to New York, to the nation, and to all museum visitors from near and far. In addition, all the positive press encouraged others with the means to give to do so.
It was a great example of how others are inspired to give when individuals donate, or promise to donate, their collections to public institutions. And it is in large part because of these kinds of actions that museums can continue to grow, attract audiences, and be a vital part of society.
At one point in American history, there were no public institutions, mainly because there was no money from the government for public institutions. Instead, it fell to the early captains of industry—the Fricks, Carnegies, and Rockefellers—to give to institutions. America has always had a history of giving back, and they were brought up in that tradition. My goal has always been to ensure that this history of giving back, and the public institutions made possible by it, continues long into our future—not only in the United States, but globally, and for many generations to come.
Museums exist so that people can see, understand, and learn. Education is the principle goal of a museum. With a private museum, how many times will people in a particular country come to see it? Once, twice, three times? Maybe. A dozen times? Never.
My own interest in giving my collection to a museum, and in supporting existing museums rather than creating my own, came from my days as a student in New York City. I would often go to a museum to see a special exhibition, and then while I was there I would spend time in the permanent collection, visiting my “old friends.” I can’t count the number of times I went through the doors of the Museum of Modern Art and saw those familiar pictures again and again and again. Each time I saw them, I learned something new. To me, private museums are for your ego; public museums are for the citizens of the world—meaning, everyone!