It can be rough out there for museums affiliated with small liberal arts colleges. No matter how much time and effort is sunk into establishing fantastic facilities and organizing stimulating exhibitions, it’s an unfortunate truth that way more capital and press attention is going to flow towards huge museums in major metropolitan areas. Sometimes, though, a windfall appears out of nowhere. This appears to be the delightful fate that’s befallen Amherst College’s Mead Art Museum, which announced today that they’ve been bequeathed upwards of 170 works of contemporary art by an anonymous (and evidently extremely generous) donor. There are big names included in this unexpected gift as well. Works by Cindy Sherman, a radical and chameleonic photographer, David Hockney, perhaps the most significant living British artist, and Mona Hatoum, a visionary Palestinian minimalist-surrealist, will all find new homes at Mead.
“We are so incredibly fortunate to be the recipients of a gift of contemporary art of this scale and scope,” David E. Little, the museum’s head curator and director, told Artforum. “The addition of more than 170 works of contemporary art will have a tremendous impact on our collection, and supports us in our ongoing efforts to expand our holdings in ways that reflect the diversity of the Amherst College community.” In celebration, Mead will launch an appropriately named temporary exhibition on September 10 called “Starting Something New: Recent Contemporary Art Acquisitions and Gifts.”
Little isn’t kidding about the huge effect this gift will likely have on the museum. Mead’s current collection includes art from all over the world: classics from the Hudson River School, avant-garde work by Russian suprematist Ilya Grigorevich Chashnik and West African sculpture. However, institutions like Mead might find it hard to collect work by the artists they’ve just been gifted or their contemporaries because of how astronomically it’s priced in the market right now: for smaller museums without bottomless pockets, it rarely makes strategic sense to invest everything in a piece by KAWS or Jeff Koons.
Essentially, Mead’s “Starting Something New” show is sure to be of a caliber than can reasonably compete with elite galleries, and other prestigious college-affiliated museums, all around the globe. Don’t be surprised if your art-obsessed friends plan a road trip to Western Massachusetts when September rolls around.