PRINT December 2012

The Year in Museums

Maxwell L. Anderson

View of “Transmission LA: AV Club,” 2012, The Geffen Contemporary at MoCA, Los Angeles, April 19, 2012. Photo: Matt Sayles/AP.

FOLLOWING THE ECONOMIC APOCALYPSE OF 2008, art museum leaders set about peddling permanent-collection shows, taking pay cuts, and abjuring business-class travel. Boards of trustees concurred that these economizing measures, both material and symbolic, were necessary. With a rebounding economy, however, 2012 has seen fiscal caution progressively evaporate. Museum directors and CEOs normally plan in three-year increments, based on the horizon line of negotiating loans for prospective exhibitions, so an annual look back may miss a trend in the making. But one fact emerges with respect to this past year: As the recession’s stranglehold loosens, more boards, directors, and curators are considering plans that only twelve months earlier would have seemed inappropriate, profligate, or even reckless.

The rapidity of this reversal highlights the fact that the operating philosophy typical of

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