There are a few crucial “aha!” moments in an art collector’s life: the first of these—or, at least, it was the first for my husband Gustavo and me—is the realization that the innocent accumulation of a few artworks purchased because they spoke to you in some compelling way has become more than just a few, and has, without your intending it, become a Collection.
The second awareness to hit home with enormous force is that you have a responsibility to the collection while it is in your hands; in fact, you have a long list of responsibilities: to safeguard and conserve the work; to archive it; to learn as much as you can about it; to share it; and to create the proper conditions for scholarship that will elucidate the works and their relationship within a larger cultural context.
The third major realization is that the lifespan of your collection exceeds your own, and that a more permanent environment must be secured to ensure that the collection continues to be cared for and seen in generations to come. The question that inevitably comes up, as Glenn Lowry points out in his contribution to this forum, is: “to build or not to build?”
Many collectors whom I admire have concluded that the best way to accomplish that third objective is to create a private museum to house their collection. There are a number of very good reasons to do that; for example, the collector can choose the optimum site and oversee the construction of a building that will answer best to the needs of the collection. A trust can be set up to ensure that there is adequate funding to attend to the collection in years to come. All of the works in the collection can be on display rather than in storage awaiting a curator’s call.
Nonetheless, and for what I think are equally good reasons, Gustavo and I decided not to create a museum to house our collection—which, it bears repeating, comprises five distinct areas: landscapes of Latin America created by traveler artists; Colonial art and furnishings; material culture of indigenous people in the Amazonas region; Latin American geometric abstraction of the Modernist period, and contemporary art.
Instead of putting our efforts into creating a museum, we felt very strongly that it was important to circulate the works in our care—the majority of which were little-known when we acquired them—through vigorous lending so that they could be seen internationally and in a wide variety of contexts. To house them in a private museum would have gone against those imperatives, effectively isolating them.
Funds that would have gone to a brick-and-mortar structure instead went to build partnerships, to create publications, and initiate programs like scholarships, staff positions at cultural and educational institutions, and travel grants, all to increase awareness of Latin American art and culture in general, and of the works included in our collection. We have also developed this website, which reaches tens of thousands of people across the globe in a way a museum can not.
Another major consideration was that we felt that it would impose a burden on our children and grandchildren and unborn generations to create a private museum that they would be obliged to carry on and administer after us. And, as we have developed relationship with like-minded institutions whose structures allow a wide range of curatorial viewpoints and have a broad scope of holdings, we felt that the gradual incorporation of our collection into those established public museums would be the best choice.
I have asked a number of collectors and museum leaders to join me in thinking about these issues and share their insights about a key question for our common cultural futures. Over the next several weeks—and in stages—we will publish responses to the question "to build or not to build" by Glenn Lowry, Alice Walton, Manuel Borja-Villel, Juan Carlos Vermé, Solita Mishaan, and Leonard Lauder.