Contemporary Art + Philanthropy

Public Spaces/Private Funding: Foundations for Contemporary Art

Published in: GIA Reader, Vol 19, No 2 (Summer 2008)

Terry Smith, author/editor

2007, 103 pages. University of New South Wales Press Ltd, Sydney, Australia www.unswpress.com.au (publisher); Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, Paddington NSW (sponsor). Available through Hopkins Fulfillment Services, University of Washington Press, (800) 537-5487

Contemporary Art + Philanthropy is the outcome of a one-day forum held at Sherman Galleries, Sydney, on August 10, 2006. The book includes a selection of essays presented at the forum. Among the essays are "Contemporary Art Now: a World Picture," by Terry Smith; "A Firm Foundation for Developing Culture," by David Elliott; "Deliberating on the Role of the Foundation as Art Institution in North America: Dinosaur or Desideratum?" by Lynne Cooke; and "The Australian Art of Giving," by Rupert Myer.

Foundations discussed range from Dia Art Foundation in New York, Ydessa Hendeles Foundation in Toronto, Artspace in San Antonio and the (Emily) Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts in Saint Louis (in Lynne Cooke's essay) to Japan's Benesse Foundation, noted for its Naoshima Island project that includes a Tadao Ando-designed hotel and museum (in Gene Sherman's essay). Lists of artists and foundations from around the world appear throughout the essays.

One essay—"Public Spaces/Private Funding" by Gene Sherman—provides a list of international contemporary art deemed significant enough for the Kaldor Art Projects to want to bring to Australia: works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Nam Jun Paik, Vanessa Beecroft, Richard Long, Sol LeWitt, Jeff Koons, and Barry McGee.

Another—"Contemporary Art Now: A World Picture" is part contemporary art primer, part aesthetic monologue, and part insightful look into "spectacle capitalism" and globalization and how they effect artists concerned with place making. In the essay, Terry Smith writes about Chinese art; offers an anti-colonial critique within advanced economies; follows installation art, photography, performance pieces, and globally networked collectives; and describes sustainable relationships with specific environments that have been developed by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Olafur Eliasson, and Carsten Holler.

So why read this book if you're considering funding contemporary art?

  • It provides excellent background and very specific information and it considers private foundations and governmental grant structures in its scope. Contemporary art is global by nature and the look into Australian concerns is both broadening and pertinent.
  • It is extremely well-written and, while the list of artists is daunting, this very fact makes it a good place to begin and to deepen both a funder's knowledge of contemporary concerns and the financial incentives specific to Australia (the United States has different but equally powerful incentives).
  • It provides a rationale to those who want to support community-based programs. "It may be only in smaller institutions including community art centers and university museums, where fearless and independent individual or collective thinking can develop and the idea of resistance can be redefined." (p. 17)
  • It supports broadening the educational base: "Encouraging audience participation in the complex and often wondrous process of understanding art can also lead to shared ownership, which no powerhouse museum, when push comes to shove, will allow." (p. 18)
  • It provides a picture of artists as often extremely generous funders of the arts and shows that involving them in the funding process produces both quality and diversity of selection.

I missed the inclusion of blogs, which I find extremely helpful in staying up with contemporary art in New Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York. I did, however, appreciate the appendices that include web sites, books, foundations, articles, and biographical background on the essayists.