Public gives UBS art show mixed reviews

Double Portrait by Lucian Freud from the UBS art collection Keystone

Visitors to New York’s Museum of Modern Art have given mixed reviews to an exhibition of works from an art collection owned by the Swiss banking giant UBS.

This content was published on February 10, 2005 minutes

The exhibition celebrates the bank’s gift of 44 pieces of art to MOMA and includes paintings, sculptures and photographs by 50 leading international artists.

Contemporary Voices: Works from The UBS Art Collection, which including the donation features a total of 64 artworks, is almost like a who’s who of modern art.

It includes outstanding works by Willem de Kooning, Brice Marden, Lucian Freud as well as Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Jenny Holzer and Damien Hirst.

Swiss artists are represented by Franz Gertsch and Beat Streuli.

The collection, originally the PaineWebber Art Collection, was assembled by former PaineWebber Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Donald Marron,

Marron was a MOMA trustee who played a key role in the museum's 1984 expansion. All of the gifts once hung in the offices of PaineWebber, until the business was purchased by UBS for $12 billion (SFr14.6 billion) in 2000.


For the most part people visiting the exhibition were lukewarm about the event, describing it as a predictable and corporate sampling of modern art.

Of the 22 people surveyed, only one person had actually come to see Contemporary Voices in particular. Most people wanted to see MOMA’s collection or the newly refurbished building.

It seems that many people started their tour of the museum from the top - the sixth floor, which also houses the UBS exhibition.

“Anyone making a donation is exciting. It’s a great show but I basically agree with Roberta Smith’s review in the New York Times,” said Lowell from New York.

In her review, Smith remarked that “there is a flatness and familiarity to the show that make it feel a bit obligatory, as if the collection were a gift that the museum did not really need but could not gracefully turn down.”

Smith’s sentiments were echoed by Carolyn, another New Yorker. “This was all selected by a corporate donor and I could feel it. It’s slick. I didn’t feel anything,” she told swissinfo.


Contemporary Voices has also been criticised for mostly containing works by white, male, American or European artists.

But a majority of those interviewed said they thought it contained a good selection of contemporary artists from the last 40 years.

Jacqui and Ruth, both from the British capital London, were happy to see compatriot Damien Hirst’s work in the show. Ruth said she had never seen his paintings of coloured spots before.

The exhibition features Hirst’s Albumin, Human, Glycate, a spot painting from 1992. The name refers to types of medication.

But when interviewed by MOMA about the meaning of his spot paintings, Hirst said "the best thing is the painting, not what you say about it."


While most people interviewed seemed uninspired by Contemporary Voices, Dan and Josh, who are studying art history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, were more effusive.

“I figured it would be a decent collection because it was corporate,” said Dan.

But the very word “corporate” didn’t sit so well with Richard and Jerry of New York City, who had come up to the sixth floor to walk down.

“It’s huge. We appreciate it and thank UBS,” said Richard. “You could even send it to the red states,” he said, referring to the more conservative US states.

“I don’t think we stopped at any one piece. But we’re thankful. And God Bless corporate America,” he added.

Or in this case, corporate Switzerland.

swissinfo, Carla Drysdale in New York

Key facts

UBS’ gift of 40 works to MOMA is the first donation from the UBS art collection to a museum.
The works were selected by the MOMA to strengthen its holdings in contemporary art.
Since the 1980s, photography has become an important part of the UBS collection, with work by Andreas Gursky and Cindy Sherman.
The exhibition runs until April 25.

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