You are right, the curators decide. The board members do. The collector's who donate money and art to the museums certainly do. (Just read the label info.) Possibly public requests might?
Ms. Elizabeth Catlett, also known as Mrs. Francisco Mora, born in 1915, has since 2005 been included in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. In the exhibition the museum displayed a suite or her prints, not her sculpture. AIC did show an example of her sculpture from the Howard University collection during the "To Conserve a Legacy" exhibition in its post-conserved state.
The surprising lack of her sculpture in the Art Institute collection does not result from Catlett not getting attention for her sculptures. But from, so I've heard, the belief that Catlett was not quite big enough!
In some circles she is huge, as some of you are aware. The International Sculpture Center (ISC), the world's leading international sculpture organization gave her its 2003 Lifetime Achievement in Contemporary Sculpture Award in New York City. Art critic and writer Michael Brenson and art historian and world class authority on African American art, David Driskell made the remarks that night.
The International Sculptor organization felt she deserved the huge honor. And Bill and Camille Cosby served as Co-Chairs making sure the money was in place.
The South Side Community Art Center, established in 1939 during the WPA and still going strong, hosted Catlett when she was finally included in the Art Institute collection . The Center had people spilling to the outside stairs and the street just trying to catch a glimpse of her!
So you see two issues. Who gets chosen is beyond most artists' control. Who gets chosen seems to include some folks who have big money or big contacts. Who gets chosen depends on current trends as well.
So maybe it is social as Mr. McLin insists!
What about a Henry Darger who never showed work during his life time? He had no social contacts, but was lucky enough to have landlords who knew art when they saw it. And, of course he was not alive to appreciate his fame and fortune.
Catlett has been very good for a long time. I knew it because I attended Howard University for undergrad school so I purchased her work from the South Side Community Center art auction 20 years ago with no challengers.
So, apparently, it makes no difference if your art is "good"? It only makes a difference if you make the right contacts, and if you are collected by the Manilows and the Crowns.
Maybe, yes, maybe no.
By the way Faith Ringgold is in The Guggenheim. The Modern Art and other major museums...
image: The Queen of York Street: detail
by Joyce Owens