New international research from The Art Fund

  • 23 November 2006

New research undertaken by The Art Fund shows that the UK's leading art museums lag behind other world-class museums when it comes to money available to buy new works of art for their collections.

The Art Fund has compared the purchasing power of the UK’s major museums with some of their counterparts abroad. A table has been compiled based on the most recently available figures (2004-05). All four of the UK museums are ranked towards the bottom of the table when compared with their counterparts in the US, France and the Netherlands.

The top four museums in terms of acquisitions spending were The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Louvre, Paris and The Getty, California. The Met had more than eight times the purchasing power of the National Gallery, and a staggering 70 times the purchasing power of the British Museum. MoMA had four times the purchasing power of Tate.

David Barrie, Director of The Art Fund, said: ‘When we published research in May that exposed a real crisis in funding - 60% of UK museums told us that they allocate no funds at all to buying new works for their collections - the Culture Minister argued that museums were ‘flourishing’ against the backdrop of increased government spending. No one would question the transformation that has taken place in the last nine years. But this new research suggests that even our greatest museums and galleries can no longer compete effectively on the world stage.’

The research shows that museums abroad are spending much more on new objects to invigorate their collections than their British counterparts. In the US huge sums are being spent; the Met spent £53.4 million last year. £26.3 million of their budget was spent on a single masterpiece - Duccio’s Madonna and Child - twice the amount the four polled UK museums spent all together. MoMA spent £20 million; here Tate (all sites) spent £4.8 million. In Europe the Louvre spent £16.8 million, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam spent £9.7 million; here the V&A spent £1.3 million. The British Museum, Britain’s second most visited free attraction (source: Visit Britain 2006) spent just £761,000.

David Barrie said: ‘British museums are struggling to keep up with their international counterparts. The sums of public money that they are spending on collecting are in steep decline, while the incentives that exist to encourage private giving are insufficient. Rather than discussing budget cuts, the government should be urgently looking at ways to increase the spending power of museums. If the money cannot come from public funds, then steps must be taken to encourage private philanthropy, through better tax incentives.’

Click here to see the league table and read the full press release

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