Cheech Marin (yes, THAT Cheech) has been collecting Chicano art for years. In a personal crusade to integrate Chicano artists into the maistream contemporary art world, he assembled an exhibition from his collection and has been displaying it around the country for seven years. After much wrangling, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has finally agreed to exhibit the works. They refused initicially because they did not want to show individual collections.

In related news, the Art Newspaper reports that the Leipzig’s Gallery of Contemporary Art, which receives a great deal of public funding, will host, but not curate, a series of exhibitions featuring individual collections. This decision has come under great fire.

The museum’s director, Barbara Steiner, defends the initiative, describing it as an “open experiment in the way that public and private resources can be used together”.

. . .

There are fears that it blurs the boundaries between public and commercial interests. Ms Steiner disagrees, saying the project is shedding light on an issue which needs discussing in Germany—that private museums are “manoeuvring public institutions out of the limelight”.

Dr Dercon, the director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, says: “You can raise questions about public and private museums, but what we need to discuss is the usurping of intellectual power by the commercial world.” Dr Dercon criticised some contemporary collectors, saying many viewed art collections as “luxury goods”. He adds: “We all deal, with private collectors and many, especially old master collectors, have been generous with loans, gifts and sharing scholarship, much more so, in fact, than many contemporary art collectors.”

He criticised the Leipzig initiative, saying “it may be intelligent [politically] but it is not intellectual and if we are trying to find a way to work with the private sector, this is not it. It is partly an issue of public responsibility and partly an issue of transparency. One of the biggest problems in the art world is that the same people can be critics, curators, dealers, crypto-collectors, even museum directors. I don’t think this is going to shed much light on what is an opaque situation.”

I fully support individuals showing their collections to the public. Besides curiosity about what other people collect, I think it’s a bad idea to squirrel away behind closed doors great art that has the potential to effect change in the world. Plus, I think collectors have an influential role to play in the art world that should be made more public. But that role may need to be better defined.

The mission of a public insitution is going to be different from that of an individual, therefore, individual collectors should find creative ways to show their collections and promote their goals by using private funds, in private settings. Cheech Marin’s intentions have great merit and I applaud him for his single-minded focus on promoting Chicano art. But maybe he should direct his efforts at helping LACMA mount a Chicano art show that is curated and scholarly instead of a mere exhibition of his own collection, which I understand is not the best representation of Chicano art anyway and may actually diminish the importance of this these artists in the history of contemporary art.