Phil Matier has confirmed in print today what had heretofore been unpleasant rumblings, that San Franciso’s magnificent Asian Art Museum is in deep financial trouble, in default with its major lender, and consulting with a bankruptcy lawyer. That it is unable to renew its operating line of credit, collateralized, it appears, with at least a portion of its permanent collections, the world faces not only the loss of a fine museum, but the prospective disbursal of extraordinary artwork to pay creditors.
That any public institution is having difficulty keeping its doors open, times being the way they are, is not a surprise, but that as valuable an institution as the Asian Art Museum is facing closure is never the less astonishing. Sadly ironic, too, given how hot and high profile particularly Chinese artwork is in collector’s circles. Last week, a Chinese collector paid nearly $70,000,000 for a particular small vase at a suburban auction house in west London. This sale is not a one-off, with each passing week, it seems, logging record-setting prices.
Clearly, the self-interest of the collector trumps any notion of the greater good- the auction commission on just this one item would probably have totaled nearly $7,000,000- in itself a sizeable donation the Asian Art Museum would doubtless be ecstatic to receive. It would be a further and yet more cruel irony, however, should the museum be otherwise forced to capitalize on the hot market in Asian art by having to sell, as a stop gap, any part of its priceless collections.