The Return of the Medici? The Global Rise of Private Museums for Contemporary Art


Since 2000, over 200 private art museums have been established worldwide. This development is highly controversial: according to some they are neo-aristocratic institutions which translate economic into cultural inequality, while others argue that they democratize and support art, especially when government support is absent or declining. This project is the first to study the rise of private museums systematically. The aim is to understand how the formation of new global elites and their entry into cultural fields results in the formation of new institutions and the reconfiguration of these fields. The project advances global field theory by answering three interrelated questions:

RQ1: What motivates collectors to found a private museum and how are these motivations activated, refracted or muted by pre-existing local and global field structures?
RQ2: How do private museums position themselves in local and global cultural fields through their acquisitions and exhibition programs?
RQ3: What is the impact of private museums on visitors, art markets and public museums?

The project focuses on The Netherlands, United States, Brazil, Russia, India and China. It uses a mixed methods approach, drawing on 100+ in-depth interviews, statistical analysis of collection data, case studies and document analysis. Theoretically it contributes to recent work on elites by studying how the rise of elites impacts cultural consumption and intermediation. Methodologically, it develops a new indicator of museum collection similarity which can be used beyond this project. The project contributes to public debates about the opportunities and threats related to philanthropic activities by new economic elites.


Project number


Main applicant

Prof. dr. O.J.M. Velthuis

Affiliated with

Universiteit van Amsterdam, Faculteit der Maatschappij- en Gedragswetenschappen, Sociologie


01/01/2020 to 31/12/2024