At the time of this lecture, James Johnson Sweeney was director of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas. Sweeney opens with a discussion of varying motives for purchasing art, and acknowledgement of the perception of the contemporary collector having “vastly more money than sensibility.” Throughout the lecture, Sweeney emphasizes the importance of “selection” rather than “collection,” and reiterates a distaste for collectors that accumulate for the sake of doing so.
Sweeney describes the various ways in which museums might improve existing approaches to curating and exhibition organization, with an eye toward providing additional context for exhibited works and subsequently enhancing the museum’s educational mission. He suggests that the private collector might apply some of these same approaches to their personal collection. Sweeney emphasizes that he believes the arrangement of a collection to be a critical exercise, and that art is meant to be lived with. Additionally, Sweeney urges private collectors to view their role as “tentacular” or “as a ‘bird dog,’” and encourages them to reach beyond the “comfort zone” of a museum. During the question and answer period, Sweeney provides more general commentary on museum acquisition practices, and compares taste in art to tastes in food.