Two hundred contemporary photographs by nearly 90 women artists from across Europe were co-acquired by the Brooklyn Museum and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), part of a larger trend of joint acquisitions among museums. The gift, which is the Brooklyn Museum’s most extensive joint acquisition to date, will filter into the museums’ collections over the next 10 years in installments chosen by the donor, along with curators from both institutions. The donation features photographs by a mix of well-known and emerging artists, many of whom work across disciplines; Moroccan and French artist Yto Barrada, Czech artist Eva Koťátková, and Dutch artist Melanie Bonajo are among the multidisciplinary makers represented.
The works were gifted by Mark Fehrs Haukohl, a knighted Houston investment banker and longtime art collector perhaps best known for cofounding the Florence-based Medici Archive Project and having one of the largest private holdings of Florentine Baroque art in the United States. For the past two decades, Haukohl has been building a pan-European collection of contemporary photography by women, with the professed intention of giving the collection — the largest of its kind — to a museum, along with a supplementary curatorial travel grant and funds to cover 10 years of annual museum acquisitions in the category.
For Haukohl, there has been a dearth of art historical attention given to photographs taken by European women artists.
The gift includes Austrian-born, England-based artist Marlene Haring’s photographic exploration of hair, in which she points to the grotesquerie and humor of the feminized attribute; Romanian artist Alexandra Croitoru’s investigation of power asymmetry in gendered bodies, as exemplified by the figure of the male body builder; and Finnish artist Elina Brotherus’s recoding of art historical canon, playing the part of the woman in Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2.
Drew Sawyer, curator of photography at the Brooklyn Museum, told Hyperallergic that none of the artists included in the donation were previously represented in the museum’s collection. “The gift is truly transformative,” Sawyer said, “in that it adds the work of so many artists and that it provides a more international perspective on contemporary photographic practices. This adds to a recent large gift of photographic works by Chinese artists.”
Britt Salvesen, department head and curator of the Wallis Annenberg Photography Department and Prints & Drawings Department at LACMA, told Hyperallergic that the museum’s holdings of contemporary photography by European women stood at approximately 120 when the museum was approached by Haukohl. There was an overlap of only 11 artists, and no duplication of images.
In a recent piece for ARTnews, Claire Selvin delved into the phenomenon of the joint acquisition, referencing the shared purchase of a Sam Gilliam painting by Dia: Beacon and the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston earlier this year. Another high-profile example from 2021 is the joint acquisition of Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, and the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Tate and the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia also jointly acquired six artworks this year, adding to the 23 they had acquired together as part of a program begun in 2015.
Selvin explained that joint acquisitions are an appealing option for museums simultaneously navigating financial pressures exacerbated by the pandemic and the need to maintain and diversify their collections. When the Association of Art Museum Directors loosened mandates surrounding deaccessioning in April 2020, a number of museums — including the Brooklyn Museum — controversially sold millions of dollars of art to pay for collection care, employee salaries, or the diversification of collections. Joint acquisition is another potential route, a way for museums to share costs surrounding not only the acquisition in and of itself, but, as in the case of a gift like Haukohl’s, associated costs like storage and conservation.
In a statement, LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan expressed excitement not only about the gift, but also about the opportunity to “broaden and deepen the field in close collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum.” Earlier this year, the Los Angeles Times reported that Govan forfeited the housing that he got as a job perk when the museum put it on the market to help raise funds.
“We believe the collaboration allows us to reach exponentially wider audiences,” a LACMA representative told Hyperallergic. “In addition, Brooklyn’s Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art creates a critical framework for the collection.”
Sawyer told Hyperallergic that there were many benefits to collective ownership. “It not only means sharing costs for storing and caring for works but more importantly allows institutions to form long term partnerships and share works with broader audiences,” he said. “It also means questioning to some extent a model of collecting that prioritizes individual ownership and rewards institutions with the greatest resources.”
A selection of the donated works will be highlighted in the exhibition In the Now: Gender and Nation in Europe, which will open at LACMA in November and travel to the Brooklyn Museum in 2023.
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