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The Secret Sharers

Just how private are private collections? The image of a reclusive collector retains a strong hold on the popular imagination, although many major collectors open their doors to specialists or, in different ways, to members of the public. A number of great collectors of the modern era, however, have kept their acquisitions to themselves or limited access to them before eventually opening them to wider audiences. This discussion will focus on three collectors or collecting couples who either kept their collections closely guarded or are sometimes considered to have been reserved, even reclusive: Albert C. Barnes, Sterling and Francine Clark and Francesco Federico Cerruti. What motivated these figures to limit access to their collections at certain times, and how and why did they eventually bequeath them to the public? And how are their attitudes to collecting reflected in the museums and foundations that their collections gave rise to – respectively, the Barnes Foundation (Philadelphia), the Clark Art Institute (Williamstown, MA) and the Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti (Rivoli/Turin)? This discussion is part of a series of three events in collaboration with Apollo magazine, exploring the human stories behind museum collections and how the characters and achievements of historic collectors make themselves felt – and are being re-evaluated – in museums today.

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Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev is an Italian and American author, museum director and a researcher of artistic practices and the histories of art, who lives and works in Turin. She is the Director of Castello di Rivoli Museo d’Arte Contemporanea and the Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti. In 2019 she launched the Cerruti Collection house museum – presenting Cerruti’s encyclopaedic collection of art and furniture that now neighbours and is managed by Castello di Rivoli – a combination of historic and contemporary art that provides fertile space for creative connection. Christov-Bakargiev is the recipient of the 2019 Audrey Irmas Award for Curatorial Excellence and was Getty Research Scholar in 2013 as well as Edith Kreeger Wolf Distinguished Visiting Professor in Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University from 2013–19. In 2015 she curated the 14th Istanbul Biennial, in 2012 she directed dOCUMENTA(13) and in 2008 she directed the 16th Sydney Biennial.

Nancy Ireson

Nancy Ireson is the Barnes Foundation’s Deputy Director for Collections and Exhibitions & Gund Family Chief Curator. A specialist in European art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Ireson joined the Barnes in August 2018. She began her curatorial career at the National Gallery, London, in 2005, after completing a PhD at the Courtauld Institute of Art. She worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Courtauld Gallery, and was the Rothman Family Associate Curator at the Art Institute of Chicago before becoming Curator, International Art at Tate Modern, London in 2015.

Olivier Meslay

Olivier Meslay is the Hardymon Director of the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA. Prior to assuming the directorship at the Clark, he spent eight years at the Dallas Museum of Art (DMA) where he held several leadership positions, most recently serving as Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs.

Prior to joining the DMA staff in 2009, Meslay established his reputation as a noted scholar and curator during a distinguished 17-year career at the Musée du Louvre, from 1993–2009 where he served as curator in charge of British, Spanish, and American Art in the Paintings department. Meslay served as chief curator of Louvre–Atlanta, a collaborative project with the High Museum, from 2003–06; and as chief curator in charge of the Louvre–Lens project, the first regional branch of the Louvre, from 2006―09.

Moderated by Thomas Marks (Apollo magazine)