Passion and patrons, key elements in art

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Passion and patrons, key elements in art


A patron may be just as important as talent for an artist to succeed. With no one to support the artist’s activities, even the most talented artist will have a hard time developing to the fullest. If it weren’t for the patronage of the Medici family, Renaissance geniuses such as Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Rafael, Dante and Galileo may have disappeared nameless in history.

In the United States, businessman and philanthropist Solomon R. Guggenheim (1861-1949) used his fortune from the mining business to support artists. From the late 1920s, he was a patron of struggling artists in the United States and Europe and collected their works. He thought that his collection deserved to be seen by more people and began opening his New York apartment to friends. This was the beginning of what is now considered a temple of 20th century modern art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Today, the Guggenheim maintains a collection of more than 3,000 paintings, sculptures and graphic art. The exhibitions at the Guggenheim, mostly on nonfigurative art, present current trends in contemporary art.

But the Guggenheim’s prominence would not have been possible without Solomon’s niece Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979). She was a passionate art collector and used her enormous inheritance to build her collection. She purchased the works by artists who would later become masters, such as Picasso, Kandinsky, Chagall and Klee. Her keen eye ensured that she was not just another collector. She contributed to the creation of new trends in contemporary art.

The Guggenheim Foundation is a pioneer in museum management as well. Upon Peggy’s death in 1979, it assumed management of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. In 1997, it opened satellite museums in Bilbao, Spain, and Berlin. Bilbao had been a declining industrial town, but it has proven how much a city can change when a world-class museum moves in.

For the next three months, the Guggenheim in New York will host “Marking Infinity,” an exhibition of the work of Lee Ufan, 75. Lee is the third Asian artist to have a dedicated exhibition there, after Nam June Paik in 2000 and Cai Guo-Qiang of China in 2008. The New York Times said of the exhibition: “For the hot, tired and frazzled masses, the Guggenheim Museum offers an oasis of cool serenity this summer.” It is an oasis that would not have been possible without patronage of the arts.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Shim Shang-bok
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