Biblical Archaeology Review 23:3, May/June 1997

First Person: Picasso and Pots

Why is it all right to collect one but not the other?

By Hershel Shanks

Should an important Picasso painting be in a private collection? Isn’t it an important part of our artistic heritage? Shouldn’t it belong to all of us, to appreciate and enjoy and learn from, instead of belonging to a single private individual? In short, shouldn’t it be in a public museum?

Of course, many such paintings are not. And no one suggests that it is wrong to own a Picasso or that art collectors are social pariahs. On the contrary, they work with museum curators, lend their paintings for important exhibitions and allow scholars to study them. With the advent of the computer, there is little difficulty in keeping track of where the paintings are, and because of their value, collectors almost always take excellent care of them.

Judging by the prices major paintings bring at auction, they are worth more, much more, in the public marketplace than Dead Sea Scrolls.

Collectors of Near Eastern antiquities have a problem that few of us really appreciate. Perhaps that is because major collectors of these antiquities are, by definition, very wealthy. Obviously, so we think, they have no problems with their multimillion dollar collections.

But that is not true. Major collectors never collect simply as an investment or to make money. They invariably have a collector’s mentality. They love what they collect. They treasure their collections and desire nothing more than having others appreciate their collections.

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