Museums between Private and Public the Case of the Beyeler Museum in Basle

Zurich IEER Working Paper No. 116

26 Pages Posted: 26 Feb 2020

See all articles by Bruno S. Frey

Bruno S. Frey

CREMA; University of Basel

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston; IZA Institute of Labor Economics; Columbia Business School - Management

Date Written: June 2002


In Europe, ever more private museums are now entering the field. This paper investigates the behavior of one of these private museums, using an institutional approach of cultural economics. The Beyeler museum in Basle, Switzerland, is a privately founded art museum with an extraordinary collection of art works. Though less than five years old, it is acknowledged to be the most successful museum in Switzerland in terms of number of visitors. However, the Beyeler museum is not completely private but receives public support. We analyze how this influences the museum's behavior: (1) The directorate of the Beyeler museum stays away from the art market with its collection as public institutions do. (2) The museum embarks on a self-propelling process concerning special exhibitions, therewith losing some of its uniqueness. (3) Concerning visitors' amenities, differences between private and public museums emerge but to a lesser extent than expected according to theory.

Keywords: Museums, special exhibitions, state support, cultural economics

JEL Classification: Z1

Suggested Citation

Frey, Bruno S. and Meier, Stephan, Museums between Private and Public the Case of the Beyeler Museum in Basle (June 2002). Zurich IEER Working Paper No. 116. Available at SSRN: or

Bruno S. Frey (Contact Author)

CREMA ( email )

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Zurich, CH 8008
+41 44 380 00 78 (Phone)

University of Basel ( email )

Peter Merian-Weg 6
Basel, 4002

Stephan Meier

Federal Reserve Bank of Boston ( email )

600 Atlantic Avenue
Boston, MA 02210
United States

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Columbia Business School - Management ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

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