An unusual arrangement that allows the Albright-Knox Art Gallery to share ownership of a major piece of artwork with the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh was finalized recently.
The two art institutions collaborated on the purchase of British contemporary artist Rachel Whiteread's "Untitled (Domestic)," a 22-foot plaster, wood and steel sculpture that has been on display in the courtyard of the Albright-Knox Art Gallery since August. The piece will eventually be dismantled and shipped to the Carnegie, where it will be unveiled later this year.
As major works of art grow prohibitively expensive to acquire, according to Albright-Knox Director Louis Grachos, such collaborations are out of necessity and have become an emerging trend in the art world.
"We're very proud to be partnering with the Carnegie on this project," Grachos said Friday. "This is an exciting new practice that empowers public institutions to acquire significant works of art to continue to grow their collections by sharing the cost."
Whiteread is a highly acclaimed artist who often makes casts of common household items such as chairs, bathtubs and table. The Carnegie already owns her "Untitled (Yellow Bath)," a rubber and polystyrene sculpture cast from 1996, and exhibited her "Untitled (One Hundred Spaces)" in the 1995 Carnegie International.
The new piece, from 2002, is 22 feet tall and cast from an interior staircase in a London gallery called the Haunch of Venison, located in a building that was once the home of Admiral Lord Nelson.
Grachos said he and Carnegie Director Richard Armstrong first viewed the work at an installation in Venice.
"Knowing that we had a shared passion for the work of this artist, Richard Armstrong and I started talking about a shared purchase," said Grachos. "Since it is of a substantial scale, we knew it could not be exhibited for an extended period of time."
Sharing the costs for such a massive work also helps cut down on storage and maintenance costs. The Albright-Knox, Grachos said, is better equipped for storage, while the Carnegie has a fully equipped staff that can attend to any restoration and conservation work the sculpture may require in the future.
The trend is also partly a reaction to the skyrocketing prices for contemporary art being paid by individual collectors, which threaten to outpace what nonprofit institutions can pay.
During two weeks in November, auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's sold a combined $1 billion in post-war artworks, many of them to private buyers.
Carnegie Museum of Art Board Chairman William E. Hunt said the sculpture "is a perfect start for this partnership. Carnegie Museum of Art has long had a close connection with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery and this collaboration helps make it even more tangible and mutually beneficial."
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette contributed to this report.