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In 1908 Helene Kröller-Müller purchased the first important work for her collection: Four Sunflowers Gone to Seed, a painting by Vincent van Gogh from 1887. In 2008 the Kröller-Müller Museum acquired its 20,000th (rough estimate) work: Cold Storage, Vancouver, a large photographic work from 2007 by the Canadian artist Jeff Wall. The museum has now been collecting modern and contemporary art for a hundred years. Over the years it is inevitable that many works lose something of their freshness, literally and figuratively, and so a museum of modern art will eventually become a museum of ‘old’ art. Through creating cohesion, through emphasising continuity and by regularly acquiring new contemporary works the current significance of the museum and its component parts becomes increasingly nuanced. Our guiding principle remains that visual art can and must direct our vision and our thoughts in ways other than those to we are accustomed: to exceed our expectations. New acquisitions are like fresh air for a collection. They give us access to the here and now, they pose new questions and allow us to look in new ways at works that are already part of the collection.
Helene and Anton Kröller-Müller financed their purchases from their own company’s profits. The Kröller-Müller Museum has preserved their collection since it was transferred to the Dutch State in 1935 and has been an independent foundation since 1994. Today it has no single source for its acquisitions. The museum’s ‘own’ funds – roughly 10% of our total acquisitions budget – comes from the museum shop’s revenues. You, the visitor, supply these monies when you buy presents, postcards or books. To be very clear: since 1994 the museum has received no direct annual acquisitions subsidy from the Dutch government. Every two years Dutch museums may request an acquisitions subsidy from the Mondriaan Foundation, which receives monies from the government. That supplies an additional 10%, mainly for purchasing works by Dutch artists. The Mondriaan Foundation places conditions on these allocated monies related to the museum’s acquisitions and loans policies.
Our most important partner for acquisitions is the BankGiro Lottery. This year, for the third time, the BankGiro Lottery has entered into a five-year agreement with four former State Museums – the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum, the Mauritshuis and the Kröller-Müller Museum – to support their acquisitions policies. This represents 70% of our total acquisitions budget. The BankGiro Lottery is a true patron of the arts. The success of the BankGiro Lottery, the Nationale Postcode Lottery and the Sponsor Bingo Lottery has prompted the State’s wish to interfere with how these funds are allocated. We, the museums, are in agreement with the lotteries that this is unjust and unfair. Of course there must be accountability in this matter, but that the State wishes to scrutinise a successful private initiative that supports good causes including museums, from which the State increasingly distances itself, is faintly absurd. It is an illustration of the development I described in an earlier column: the State wants to shift the funding of culture increasingly to the business community, but cannot resist the temptation to be a back-seat driver.
For each acquisition we must consider carefully which organisation we might approach for extra funding. That makes up the remaining 10% of our acquisitions budget. Dutch museums can turn for assistance to the Mondriaan Foundation, whose door is always open, or to other grant-giving bodies such as the prestigious Rembrandt Association, which celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2008. This association, founded and funded by individuals, has a ‘limited’ annual budget of 1.5 million euros to distribute among the Dutch museums. The large and impressive photographic work by Jeff Wall was acquired by our museum with the support of the BankGiro Lottery and the Rembrandt Association and has thus become part of the nation’s public collections: it therefore also belongs to you. It can be seen as part of our exhibition devoted to new acquisitions, which runs until 1 February 2009, and will then be displayed regularly in our changing displays of the museum’s collection.

Evert van Straaten
December 2008