One is that there's a difference between having faith in art and artists and having faith in art institutions. Both are perfectly fine and respectable things to do, but in the end they're not the same. To see how, just imagine the transformative effects of a $2 billion infusion into the American art market over the next few years, rather than into the building construction market.
The expansion of art institutions is always a double-edged sword. While the benefits are many and obvious, the often unconsidered drawback is that the pool of potential money is limited. Every dollar that's spent on an institution is a dollar that can't be spent on art. And while it's true that far from every dollar earmarked for an institution would automatically be spent in the art market, the discrepancy simply indicates the degree to which any institutional expansion involves interests other than artistic ones.
An out-of-state friend who lives in a rapidly growing city just beginning to feel its cultural oats not long ago told me of the interest he and a number of patrons had in getting a new museum of contemporary art off the ground. With the right architect and a few sizable lead gifts, he was certain a lot of money could be raised for a building. What did I think?
Don't do it, I advised. Yes, start a museum, but don't build a signature building. Hire the best engineer in town, build a big industrial warehouse, then bring in that exceptionally talented architect to retrofit the place for museum purposes. Do a Geffen, not a Bilbao. It'll cost a small fraction of a spanking new signature museum building and a large pool of money will still be available for art--that is, for the far more difficult and (dare I say it) more important activity of nurturing the life of culture from the ground up, rather than the top down.
Today, it seems like every city on the make wants to go the other way and build a new museum to be the next Bilbao. It's a great building that everyone should see--but, did you catch those amazing shows of L.A. art in the '90s, the history of American and European Conceptual art, Robert Gober's sculpture, the relationships between art and language, the Lannan gift of Minimalist and perceptual art, the connections globally between performance actions and art objects, 40 years of Sam Francis' paintings and the rest that were all at the Geffen Contemporary?