In this state-of-the-art article, we review studies of the highly controversial, global rise of private art museums as a new organizational form within art fields. Given that current studies are scattered across different disciplines like sociology, museum studies, economics and anthropology, a systematic engagement with theoretical and methodological issues is difficult. This paper compiles and discusses these studies, identifying key themes, controversies as well as areas of consensus.
We organize our review according to eight key themes: 1. (non)-existent definitions of private museums; 2. their historical roots; 3. geographical dimensions; 4. the life course of private museums; 5. their relation to public museums; 6. the involvement of the government; 7. private museums as actors in the art field, and 8. the implications for the (re)production of social inequalities. We conclude by reflecting on the most significant gaps in the literature and formulate a research agenda that can guide us to a more systematic inquiry of the private museum phenomenon.