How the past shapes our future - Guggenheim director

Museums show the next generation what's worth saving

A great art collection acts as a mirror to society and a hammer with which to shape it. In this short video, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Richard Armstrong, reflects on the responsibility that collectors and leaders have to make a difference to the wider world – both today and tomorrow.

If culture is understood to be the accumulation and preservation of history, Armstrong believes that what we choose to save – and what we allow to be lost – is incredibly revealing. It is in this light that the museum’s international aspirations become increasingly clear.

Through in-depth collaboration with artists, curators, and cultural organisations from South and Southeast Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, the Guggenheim UBS MAP Global Art Initiative has expanded the museum’s offering with more than 125 new pieces of art. In addition to acquiring a number of important works, the Guggenheim has attained deep-rooted knowledge and connections with parts of the world previously under-represented within its collection. Each and every piece offering a new perspective, another way of seeing the world. It was a path that required humility, curiosity and ambition, Armstrong says, but one which “made our universe much more multi-dimensional”.

Although art has the power to transcend cultural, political and geographical barriers, Armstrong has in the past warned against applying the word ‘universal’ to a collection.

Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, interior

“It is better to talk about commonalities or parallel aspirations. It is crucial in our thrust for being global that we recognise our differences as people and as civilisations.”

“The reason that people become artists is that they value nuance, so why would we, as the allies of artist, want to change that?”

This approach is echoed by Sylvain and Karen Levy, the father and daughter responsible for the dslcollection of contemporary Chinese art.

Sylvain and Karen Levy

“Art is about experiences, the more diversity you have in the way you experience art, the more interesting it gets…It’s definitely connected us to a country that we didn’t know and enabled us to discover a culture”, says Karen Levy.

In this second short video, they reflect on a passion passed down through the generations, collecting beyond the comfort zone, and the beauty of shaping a family legacy greater than the sum of its parts.

Using innovative digital tools, the collection (which started in 2005 and was co-founded by Sylvain’s partner Dominique Levy) can now show its artworks anywhere, anytime through their virtual museum platform. Embracing technology as a means of discovery, users can experience major works from over 200 contemporary Chinese artists. Openness, the nomadic and sharing are core concepts of the dslcollection.

Gu Dexin, 2005.03.05, part of the dslcollection

“What is important for me is transmission. My daughter is part of this adventure, she’s bringing her personality, I think this is important. Not to transmit only the object only, but the project. Collecting can make ordinary people have an extraordinary life”, concludes Sylvain Levy.

To read more about art and legacy, check out Vanity Fair’s interview with the painter Helen Downie.