Art Talk by Collector Larry Fields
A highlight of my visit was hearing Larry Fields, a prominent Chicago art collector, as well as a generous donor and board member of the MCA, speak.
He presented a few pieces that he and his wife have donated to the museum. In turn, Omar Kholeif, Senior Curator and Director of Global Initiatives at the MCA engaged in an informal question-and-answer session with Fields. (Kholeif has since moved on and is now the Director of Collections and Senior Curator at Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), in the United Arab Emirates). Together they discussed, amongst other topics, Glenn Ligon’s works and the concept of collecting in general. Fields stated,
“Collecting is a way to understand the times and world you’re living in.”
This concept, that to collect is to comprehend one’s world, brings up a whole suite of questions, including the fact that colonialism felt similarly: to collect was to understand. Is it in fact necessary to acquire pieces of others in order to fully comprehend them? Is that truly what motivates Fields (a desire to understand) or is there a broader wish to support worthy artists who are searching to make meaning from their own experiences?
The Meaning of a Museum’s Collection
Despite any questions regarding the motivation behind the collection, many of Fields’ comments stayed with me. He talked about how the “DNA” of any museum is its collection. Luckily, many museums have realized that their collections are too white and too male. Such a collection often feels exclusionary to large (non-white, non-male) portions of the population, who end up feeling like museums aren’t meant to serve people like them. Luckily, many art institutions seem to be moving towards more diverse exhibitions, with inclusive themes, although long-term results on exhibition and collecting practices will only be known in the decades ahead when data can be properly analyzed.