In this week's New Yorker, Adam Gopnik questions the bizarre existence of the Warburg Institute. "It is a library like no other in Europe—in its cross-disciplinary reference, its peculiarities, its originality, its strange depths and unexpected shallows." But can the library's private vision endure?
In the past several years, the Warburg's future has been fiercely contested. It is in some senses a small and parochial struggle, right out of Trollope's Barchester novels, and in others about something very big—about the future of private visions within public institutions, about what memory is and what we owe it, about how to tell when an original vision has become merely an eccentric one. It is the tale that has been told, in another key, about moving the Barnes Foundation from Merion to Philadelphia, and about expanding the Frick Collection, in New York. The question is what we owe the past's past, what we owe the institutions that have shaped our view of how history happened, when contemporary history is happening to them.