Balancing between the creative imperative and the bottom line is an art perfected by top museums like the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.

Picture yourself in a museum of modern art. On the walls of the gallery are two Picasso paintings, “Dish of Pears” and “Seated Nude,” alongside other paintings by European artists active in the early 20th century. Step into a room nearby and there is another Picasso, “The Three Dancers,” among a selection of masterpieces by international Surrealists. Elsewhere in the museum, in another curated show, you find again the unmistakable hand of Picasso in “Weeping Woman.”

Anna Zamora-Kapoor.

In “Networks on the walls: Analysing ‘traces’ of institutional logics in museums’ permanent exhibitions,” Anna Zamora-Kapoor, assistant professor of sociology at Washington State University, and colleagues unravel the question by analysing artist selection and the underlying networks among artworks in the permanent collections of three top museums of modern and contemporary art: Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou in Paris and MoMA. They show that elite museums’ selection of artists and the way in which they display the latter’s works are subject to forces of state, market, and aesthetics as well as to the compromises these often conflicting forces engender – dynamics similar to what businesses in the creative and innovative industries face.

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