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Jan Svejkovsky




Location: San Diego
Joined: 04 Oct 2007

Posts: 25

PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 4:44 pm    Post subject: Chicago Arts Institute takes arms collection off display         Reply with quote

My elderly parents live in Chicago and I vist them several times a year - often stop by the Art Institute which used to have quite a nice collection of historical arms and firearms and a very good collection of armour in a long hallway separating two sections on the first floor. Since at least last spring, the hall was blockaded for construction, until last month when I was there and they were installing numerous "Budha-type" relics from the far East. I finally had to ask and was told that the arms & armour collection is permanently off display. Instead, they will put some selected pieces in cases in rooms with paintings dating to the same period. So far they did it with only one item on the 2nd floor.

This is very unfortunate, since there are not that many public collections like that in the US. I wonder what they intend to do with all the pieces - I assume they can't sell them since many were donated to the Institute by individuals long ago. So like in the original Indiana Jones movie, these relics will be confined to boxes in a warehouse??
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Joe Fults




Location: Midwest
Joined: 02 Sep 2003

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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 6:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Actually one of the problems with museums is that they can and occasionally do sell pieces of their collections for any number of reasons. When museums get rid of items its part of a standard process called deaccession. The idea that things go into museum collections and stay there seems to be somewhat of a pop culture myth.

Not saying that is what has happened in this case but it does happen. If somebody who is associated with a museum happens across this thread they will be able to give a much more insightful answer.

*Edit to fix some pretty bad grammar and spelling.

"Our life is what our thoughts make it"
-Marcus Aurelius

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."
-John F. Kennedy


Last edited by Joe Fults on Tue 02 Dec, 2008 3:46 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Tim Lison




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PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 9:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Wow, that's really a shame. I haven't been to see the Arms&Armor there in about 2 years and had planned to do so over the holiday season. I guess I'll cancel my visit now....
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Andrew Fox




Location: S.F. Bay Area
Joined: 25 Jan 2004

Posts: 50

PostPosted: Mon 01 Dec, 2008 9:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Joe Fults wrote:
Actually one of the problems with museums is that they can and occasionally do sell pieces of their collections for any number of reasons. When museums get rid of items its part of a standard process deaccession. the idea that things go into museum collections and stay there seems to be somewhat of a pop culture myth.

Not saying that is what has happened in this case but it does happen. If somebody who is associated with a museum happens across this thread they will be able to give a much more inciteful answer.


As I'm associated with a museum I can try to illuminate two points. First, the majority of a museum's collections are usually in storage. For a variety of reasons—materials, condition, space, curatorial focus among them—objects often stay in the collections due to their value and relevance, but rarely see the light of day. In the case of the Art Institute, it looks like there's a large scale renovation going on in their galleries and only selected objects from the arms and armor (and many other collections) are on display through mid-May or so.

Deaccessioning (AKA getting rid of stuff) is a common practice in museums, and it's not necessarily a bad thing. Objects have to go through a pretty thorough process to get deaccessioned, and they're usually not just sold on eBay (Wink) or directly to private collectors, but first offered to other museums and then sold through a reputable auction house.

That said, if you get a curatorial staff and board that is ignorant of arms and armor (and many are...) you stand the chance of losing collections wholesale. That's what happened to much of our arms and armor collection, although admittedly a lot of the material was pretty crappy stuff collected piecemeal at the end of the 19th century, with a few obvious Victorian fakes/reproductions thrown in for good measure. There's still a cool Saxon rapier, a couple composite suits of Maximilian armor, a crossbow, and a few other goodies that I've had a chance to ogle in our storage facility. Happy
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Sean Flynt
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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 7:43 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some of their collection is online:

http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/search/citi/category%3A6

Lots of helmets. Few arms.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
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David E. Farrell




Location: Evanston, IL
Joined: 25 Jun 2007

Posts: 156

PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 7:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

wow - and sadly, the really interesting stuff was never displayed (rather only the most cool looking stuff).

If the original poster wasn't aware - the Art Institute Collection is actually pretty big (far larger than they ever displayed). I think it is recorded in a text called something like 'The Arms and Armour of the Chicago Art Institute'.

AKA: 'Sparky' (so I don't need to explain later Wink )

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Scott Baltic
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Location: Chicago
Joined: 01 Mar 2004

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PostPosted: Tue 02 Dec, 2008 8:35 pm    Post subject: Some background on Art Institute of Chicago armor collection         Reply with quote

This is all from memory, so don't take it as gospel, but this should be broadly correct.

George F. Harding was a wealthy Chicagoan back roughly a hundred years ago. IIRC, he made his fortune in meatpacking, though I could be wrong on that. His extensive collection of historical items included not only arms and armor, but some noteworthy musical instruments.

So after his death and under the terms of his will, his collections went to a foundation/trust, which year after year did little or nothing to put the collection out where the public, scholars and so forth could benefit from it. Meanwhile, the collection is safely in storage, and the trustees/board are collecting salaries.

This eventually becomes somewhat of a scandal (since the trustees are violating the terms of the trust agreement), the Illinois Attorney General steps in to crack some heads, and the Chicago Tribune starts reporting on this.

Again IIRC, an agreement is hammered out under which the trust is dissolved, no one gets prosecuted and the entire collection goes to Chicago's major art museum, the Art Institute.

Sounds like a win-win? Unfortunately, it isn't, because the Art Institute, whose major collections are in areas like Impressionist paintings and East Asian art, has no particular interest in the Harding Collection, no significant existing collections in those areas, no specialist curator (like Jeff Forgeng at the Higgins, e.g.) to be a champion for the collection, etc.

So the AIC grudgingly gives the Harding Collection a modicum of space, treats visiting scholars (like the crew from the annual meeting of the Armour Research Society a year or two ago) like unwelcome interlopers, etc. And now the future of the Harding at the AIC appears to be unknown.

Overall, yes, lots of museums have much more in the basement than they do on display, for a variety of reasons. Consider, after all, that the donation of an item is wonderful, but the space to display it (along with security, utilities, curatorial staff, etc., etc.) gets more expensive all the time, particularly in the tourist-friendly downtown locations where museums tend to congregate.

But those obstacles are hugely magnified when the museum in question never really *owned* (in an organizational sense) the items in question.

Scott Baltic

Publisher/Managing Editor
Western Martial Arts Illustrated
<www.wmaillustrated.com>
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