The New Estates
Something is rotten in the state of society, one might say, when the 'House Museum', a return to the patron-client role of art, is lauded as something new and good. This idea, that art not only belongs in the private sphere but should be feted for its occasional display, dates back to the Renaissance.
'On Splendour' (Pontano, 1498) champions the idea of 'Magnificence' as civic virtue. This treatise extolled how rich houses - the Medici and D'Este, for example - demonstrated their civic-mindedness by honouring their (titular) lords, the Holy Roman Emperor and so on, while dazzling their peers, with their own domestic decoration. The likes of Michelangelo were their vassals, their art an expression of a patron's power.
The idea first tarnished in the 18th century, when the Enlightenment brought the first royal collections into public view - the British Museum, the Louvre - yet survived intact among upper classes until the 20th century, in English tradition in the form of country houses and the aristocracy that 'minded' them for future generations. An idea rejected in Australia from the outset (in its nascent forms of 'Bunyip Aristocracy'), and in the UK after WW2 (with exceptions) - considered for a long time aloof and elite.
This is not to say that private institutions have not played an important role in Australia's cultural scene, with ensembles having played first in private homes, and galleries sponsoring shows. Rather, these exhibits and recitals were always seen as interim steps, preludes to public institutions like the Opera House or Museum of Contemporary Art, once subscriptions could be raised.
Only now, when live music venues are closing in droves, and art galleries devote ever more floorspace to the gift shop, do we see this reverse trend writing itself back into the modern patrician estate - the Home Theatre where once was a cinema, the Home Museum in lieu of the public art gallery.