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Crunching the Numbers Behind the Boom in Private Art Museums

A map of the countries with the greatest number of private contemporary art museums (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry's List)
A map of the countries with the greatest number of private contemporary art museums (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry’s List) (click to enlarge)

What kind of person opens a private contemporary art museum? According to a new report by the art collector database Larry’s List and the Chinese art market site Artron, he’s probably in his 60s or his 70s; he’s probably from South Korea, the US, or Germany; he probably founded his museum in the last 15 years; and he’s most likely a “he” — women account for just 18% of private contemporary art museum founders.

The number of visitors to private contemporary art museums (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry's List)
The number of visitors to private contemporary art museums (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry’s List)

The “Private Art Museum Report” is based on data from 317 museums in 45 countries. It defines a private contemporary art museum as an institution that meets these five requirements: it must be owned by a private individual; that person must be known as an art collector and display some of her collection in the institution; the museum must have a physical space; the museum must be publicly accessible (either through regular opening hours or by appointment); the collection must be focused on contemporary art; and the collector must still be alive. The report touches on everything from attendance and admission fees (55% of them don’t charge any) to the number of employees and social media followers — British collector Charles Saatchi’s namesake gallery is, far and away, the leader in the latter category — to the number of exhibitions the museums organize every year, how much of the work shown is from the collector’s holdings, and who the best represented artists are — no surprises there, the most collected are, in order, Andy Warhol, Anselm Kiefer, Gerhard Richter, Damien Hirst, and Pablo Picasso.

However, the report does hold a few surprises, like that South Korea has the world’s greatest concentration of private art museums with 45, slightly surpassing the US (43) and Germany (42). (Despite all the talk of China’s private museums boom, it ranks a distant fourth, with 26.) The breakdown by city is also surprising, with Miami, Athens, and Moscow — which have eight, seven, and six private contemporary art museums, respectively — outranking traditional centers for contemporary art including New York (which has five) and London (with just four).

Collector Carlos Slim's Museo Soumaya in Mexico City (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)
Collector Carlos Slim’s Museo Soumaya in Mexico City (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

The report’s most starling statistic may be that 53% of the world’s private contemporary art museums were founded between 2001 and 2010. Another 18% have been founded since 2010, which lends further credence to the widespread perception that more and more wealthy collectors are opting to build their own museums rather than pledge their holdings to existing institutions — and echoes the Senate Finance Committee’s concern that some of them may be doing so to take advantage of tax incentives rather than for the public good.

While the likes of Eli Broad and Carlos Slim and their enormous institutions (the Broad and the Museo Soumaya) tend to dominate discussions of private museums, most are quite small. Their average size, according to the report, is just over 36,000 square feet; 43% have fewer than 500 works in their collections; 38% have fewer than five employees; and just over half organize three or fewer exhibitions per year. The report’s global overview is accompanied by case studies focused on specific countries (Italy and China), interviews with collectors, an analysis on the role of architecture in private art museums, and an essay by art historian Christine Howald comparing the current boom to the private art museums that appeared throughout Europe before the 20th century.

A map of the distribution of private contemporary art museums around the world (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry's List)
A map of the distribution of private contemporary art museums around the world (via Private Art Museums Report/Larry’s List) (click to enlarge)

Download the entire Private Art Museums Report for free here.

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