Rather than simply being repositories for art, museums have become increasingly dynamic places. There has been a broad trend in the museum world to make art what it traditionally never was; accessible. When Frank Gehry’s masterpiece, the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, opened nearly 20 years ago it had an effect few could have anticipated. Bilbao, a city few outside of Spain were familiar with, was instantly put on the international cultural map. It showed us that a museum has the power to entirely transform its local surroundings.
The economic and cultural impact of such destinations inspired local governments, museums and private collectors to replicate the ‘Bilbao effect’. The Tate’s outpost in Margate, Kent, Turner Contemporary (which opened in 2011) has brought visitors to the seaside town, which was hitherto less of a cultural epicentre. Here art, with its power to inspire and to bring tourist dollars, is a possible antidote to severe socio-economic problems. That’s the hope at least. Museums are increasingly free to visit, open later, doing more to engage young people, and reaching out to communities to whom the art world had previously been closed. The message is that art can no longer be the preserve of the elite.
When Mario Testino opened MATE in Lima in 2012, it was an exercise in sharing a previously very private passion. His choice of location was a natural one, Lima, his hometown. There are many ways to give back but this was a deeply personal one. As an artist and art collector, art in its varied forms and mediums has been a constant in Testino’s life. To create a museum celebrating art was a long-held ambition. Mario frequently came back to the Old Master paintings when working out light and structure for his photographs. When a friend suggested he see a grand Colonial house in Barranco, Mario originally had it in mind as a storage place for his archive. The project evolved and now MATE is one of the most important cultural destinations in Peru. It displays not only a permanent exhibition of Testino’s work but also runs a programme of contemporary and modern art exhibitions. ‘I wanted to give people what I had when I left Peru, and started meeting artists and seeing exhibitions,’ says Testino. As well as its exhibitions, MATE stages education programmes, talks, tours and outdoor exhibitions for communities in Peru that are too far away to visit the museum. Mario said that he ‘wanted to make it as open and accessible as possible.’
The Broad Museum is like MATE, further evidence of a private museum that wishes to be anything but private. With its free admission and dynamic exhibition program, The Broad has, like the Guggenheim Bilbao, rejuvenated an area of downtown L.A. ‘I loved visiting The Broad and seeing it full of young people. It reminded me of being that age and of encountering art for the first time. It had a powerful effect on me. It changed everything, my work and my life really. It’s been something I always come back to.’
In the 4 years that MATE has been open, the museum has staged exhibitions on the work of Andy Warhol, focused on his film portraits, and will open its Dr. Lakra show next on October 25th. Its ‘Masters of Photography’ series has examined the work of George Hurrell, Ed Van Der Elsken and most recently Hamidou Maiga, for whom MATE has recently issued a back catalogue. This symbiosis of photography and contemporary art is mirrored by Testino’s own collecting habits. The two inform each other. Taking international art to Peru and making Peruvian art more visible internationally, is a key tenant of the museum. As its founder says, ‘Come and take a look for yourself.’
Oscar Humphries for Mira Mira
Photographs © Mario Testino