What Are Museums Collecting?

What We Can Learn from the Major Museums’ Collection Strategies 

In Australia, the biggest museums and galleries publish Collection Strategies – future-facing documents that set out the goals, values and direction of their collections. By deciding what should be saved from obscurity, these documents are involved in history-making. Bureaucratic as they may appear, Collection Strategies can tell collectors what art may define the moment we’re in. 

Championing Minorities 

Broadly speaking, Australia’s Collection Strategies seek “excellence”. They want to diversify their collections, prioritising artists who are immigrants, women, First Nations, queer and gender non-conforming or have a disability. At Queensland Art Gallery, their Collection Strategy favours work that “reflects the globalised world… and the lasting impact of colonialism, war, urbanisation and technology.”

While new perspectives will inevitably rise, identity, climate change and technology do seem key to understanding life in the twenty-first century. When looking back at this moment in history, it will be artists who distinctively, elegantly or powerfully captured these themes that will be called to mind.

From the White Cube to the Auction Room

Whether the museum’s ruling paradigm will translate to the Australian art market is a matter of speculation. Private collectors typically favour beautiful, thought-provoking and relatable work that they can hang on their walls, rather than the experimental and spectacular installations fit for a museum foyer. 

The paradigm through which museums organise the world will invariably change. Yet, when we look back from the future, the artists they recorded and anointed as important will emerge as articulators of this time, crowned with an enduring historical significance. Artists who do this best, with the most flair and distinctiveness, will likely stand the test of time. We do not need to embrace museums’ Collection Strategies whole, but it might pay mind to look at what the captains foresee on the horizon line.

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