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Smart art: how to sell out without selling out

February 18, 2010

Damien Hirst

Crowd pleaser … Damien Hirst with White Roses and Butterflies 2008, part of his No Love Lost, Blue Paintings shown at the Wallace Collection. Photograph: Sarah Lee

It’s a peculiar destiny to be a small art museum in London. A city whose big galleries are so famous and so well-attended must be an unnerving place if you are responsible for attracting audiences, press coverage and funding to one of the quieter, more taken-for-granted institutions. These smaller London venues have their own “big three”. The Courtauld Gallery, the Wallace Collection, and Dulwich Picture Gallery are all outstanding collections that offer unique pleasures of their own.

At the Courtauld, you can see one of the choicest collections of late-19th century French art anywhere in the world. At Dulwich, you can take in such great old master paintings as Rubens’s Venus, Mars and Cupid in the setting of an architectural masterpiece by Sir John Soane. And the Wallace Collection can boast such a universal masterpiece as The Laughing Cavalier.

In a sane world these galleries would not have to compete for attention. It would be fine if they were empty of people. They could just concentrate on presenting their collections well, and perhaps putting on the occasional erudite exhibition of old master drawings – indeed, the Courtauld is about to do just that.

But this is not a sane world. Art is as nuts as everything else. If you don’t get people in, you’re not accessible, you’re elitist – and your budget becomes vulnerable. The monies that can be got from gift shops, cafes, and ticket sales are considered indispensable. And besides, these collections doubtless have a genuine democratic urge to share their riches.

Read more at: Smart art: how to sell out without selling out

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