Monday, April 11, 2011

Goodbye Museums, Hel-lo Markets! David Moos to Leave AGO for Own Collector Consultancy

The always with-it Murray Whyte revealed on his Toronto Star blog today that David Moos is leaving his post as curator of contemporary art at the AGO. The Globe and Mail followed later in the day with a brief item.

In both items on Moos' departure, the curator indicates that he is leaving to do independent consulting for art collectors.

As Whyte reports, "No cloak and dagger, that I know of, but I spoke to David this afternoon, and he'll be serving as a private art advisor (his words) to local patrons in furtherance of acquiring significant international contemporary works both for institutional donation (like his old bosses) and their own collections. He called it a "missing piece of the puzzle" here, and a role that needed to be filled."

And as the Globe follows up, "In a brief interview, Moos said his job switch has been “in my mind for some time . . . [In the years ahead] I see myself as working very closely with a select group of collectors to build collections of international and Canadian art at the highest level.” Such a level is “uncommon in this city and this country, but is, when one travels internationally, not so uncommon . . . It’s an exhilarating moment.”

What resounds for me in these comments is some kind of refrain on the art world in general: the idea that if you want to go after the best art and the big guns, you should be working on the markets/sales/dealer side of the art world rather than the nonprofit/institutional side.

I don't know if that's what Moos meant, and I'm certainly not naive enough to believe that the markets end and the museums end of the art world are totally separate. But that resonance still exists for me, as it's clear that public museums, especially ones in Canada, are only capable of collecting so much given the fact that their budgets are more limited than that of corporate or certain individual collectors.

These ideas also remind me of some questions that came up around It Is What It Is, the recent-acquisitions-cum-national-biennial show at the National Gallery of Canada. I really enjoyed that exhibition and did find it representative of contemporary Canadian artmaking--in fact, I recommend ya'll give it a look before it closes April 24--but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't thinking to myself "Is this really the best in Canadian art? Or is it simply the best that our national public institution can afford?"

There's also a bit of a national diss in Moos' comments in saying that collections of international and contemporary art of the highest level are "uncommon" in Toronto and Canada.

Ah well. As frequent readers of this blog know, I'd just be happy if we could see our national and local collections of art more readily, so we could evaluate said situation for ourselves.

One more recurring idea this departure touched off for me: that there's more "freedom" in the private-art-world side than in the public-art-world side, ie. that public galleries have many more guidelines and checklists and hoops to jump through about what they should and shouldn't be collecting or exhibiting or advocating for. I can imagine that freedom would make a jump to the private side more attractive for many public-institution curators. In this type of realm, I often think of Jessica Bradley, who once worked at the AGO and the National Gallery of Canada but then got into art dealing.

Anyway, it'll be interesting to see who steps into the role over at the AGO. And see what Moos does next, too, and whether it agrees with him as much as he predicts it might.

(Image of the AGO from its website)


Ingrid Mida said...

I missed this news and read your post with great interest. It makes sense given how difficult it is working behind the scenes at a museum. I guess that means the recession is over and collectors are ready to buy art again?

Leah Sandals said...

Hi Ingrid,

I have no idea how hard it might be working behind the scenes at a museum. It certainly has its privileges as well, I'd imagine.

I also know that museums do work closely at times with private collectors to acquire artworks, something that Moos alluded to in some of his comments as well. So I'm aware those worlds aren't necessarily so separate.

Interesting point though about the recession. While I suspect other personal and professional factors are at hand, you're probably correct in implying that this type of leap would have been less popular in oh, say, Fall 2008.