March 24, 2021

Museums and galleries: different structures to organise art.

Although the fundamental similarity of an art museum and art gallery is to organise and display artworks for the public, there are some significant differences between these two entities. Art galleries enable contemporary artists to exhibit their works and attract potential customers. Museums of art, on the other hand, are institutions that display artworks from their own collection of private or public holdings, which are not for sale. Museums have more artworks than galleries, therefore need more substantial space to store and preserve them for the future. Galleries exhibit art differently, usually occupying a single room rather than a whole building, thus taking less area than museums.

Museums collect and store art for future generations

Unlike galleries, museums display works of art but collect historical pieces instead of selling what is currently on display during an exhibition. The word “museum” comes from ancient Greek Mouseion which refers to a place dedicated to the Muses as the “goddess of arts and science”. In Greek mythology, the nine Muses gave inspiration to artists who actively engaged in the study of these faculties. The source of inspiration and profound meaning often came from the Muse as an object of love and admiration for an artist lost in deep reflective thought. The museum, therefore, reveals itself as a place of amusement, created to inspire the next generation of artists with new scientific discoveries and the infinite beauty of art.

Art as cultural heritage   

Some of the top art museums are Le Louvre, State Hermitage and The Metropolitan Museum of Art also known as “The Met”. Louvre, located in France, is the largest museum of art in the world, attracting millions of visitors every year. This central landmark and historical monument of Paris contains in its collection masterpieces such as “The Wedding at Cana” by Veronese, “The Coronation of Napoleon” depicted by a French painter Jacques-Louis David and Leonardo da Vinci’s famous “The Mona Lisa”. Empress of Russia and a patron of the arts, Catherine the Great founded the world’s second-largest museum in St. Petersburg called “The State Hermitage”. The collection of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art spreads across the timeline from the ancient world to present, covering over 5,000 years of artists’ efforts to enhance our culture.

History and tradition of a Museum

Museums are bound to a mission statement that not only presents the history of the establishment but also guides it through the future by a set of goals. The Metropolitan Museum of Art was founded on April 13, 1870, and continued its tradition for over 130 years with the following statement:

“The mission of The Metropolitan Museum of Art is to collect, preserve, study, exhibit, and stimulate appreciation for and advance knowledge of works of art that collectively represent the broadest spectrum of human achievement at the highest level of quality, all in the service of the public and in accordance with the highest professional standards.”

The leading and firstly noticeable similarity between a museum and a gallery is the exhibition of art, but what differs these two organisations is their purpose. A gallery aims to sell artworks – museum aspires to collect and preserve it. An art gallery is a business, which profits from a commission of around 50% on every artwork sold, whereas a museum depends on grants, endowments and admission fees. A museum could, however, sell a work of art through the process called ‘deaccessioning’ which is the permanent removal of an artwork from museum’s collection when it no longer serves the purpose described by the mission statement.

Galleries and contemporary artists

There are different types of art galleries. Some operate as non-profit and other as a standartd commertial business. Both organisations focus on promoting works of art but the way they find their operation varies. The non-profit type rely on grants, donations etc. but commercial galleries charge a percentage by selling an artwork. Vanity galleries do not sell the art but rather rent out a space for an artist who then takes care both of the success of his business and also the contribution to a vanity gallery in form of a rental fee. Artist-Run Initiative is a type of art gallery that is run and operated by a group of artists who share not only the costs but also a similar vision to create, display and sell art.

While a museum is a place to store artworks which are rarely deaccessioned, galleries promote artists who wish to sell their work. Commercial galleries are not only physical space in a particular building but also exist online where people can view art with the consideration of buying it through a website. The invention of the Internet created new possibilities for the next generation of artists who gained the opportunity to have an online presence where they can showcase their work to a potentially much broader audience. Emerging artists can apply with the hopes of being accepted and represented by an online gallery which usually exhibits contemporary art and builds a relationship with people who admire the talent and mastery of a virtuoso.