When “sharing” involves money

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Giraffe with blue eyes by Peter Pommerer 2000. Owned by The Collective

Across our broad digital landscape the concept of “sharing” has become closely associated with a world where little is left to the imagination, for better or for worse.  We share the way we work, the fruits of our efforts, our ideas, our views, our culture and even our private lives. Why? According to a New York Times study on online sharing apart from a desire to reach people with entertaining and informative content, it is also motivated by altruism: our need to define ourselves to others, build and share reputation, seek validation or a sense of fulfilment and to build “identity”.  Do we look good? Do we care enough? Do we offer something?  Are we entertaining? Can we go viral?  Is the concept of “sharing ” largely about “self” however beneficial to the people it reaches?

Online sharing is by no means the total sum of the concept with more physical modes of “sharing “and “cooperation” still as important as ever across all cultures.

The idea of The Collective was born from a desire by a group of households to have more contemporary art in our homes.  But to do that effectively we needed to find a way to afford it which meant coming together to pool resources and find a solution (or model) that suited all of us. In this scenario co-operation and sharing become multi-directional and the ultimate purpose was

“not so much the welfare of the other(s) but the joint group product” (M.Argyle, Cooperation: the basis of sociability)

Since 2002 ,when The Collective was founded, this has been one of our key goals and the concept of “sharing” art between the six households has worked to all our benefit whilst also allowing the advantage of individual enjoyment of the art works.  But more than that we have “shared” experiences during the process as we come together at different intervals to exchange works, visit artists and see exhibitions.

When discussing The Collective with interested outsiders the burning question that gets

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Untitled, Chris Ofili 1999. Owned by The Collective

asked over again is around the financial input and “how do you get out, if you want to end it?”   And this is where discussion takes a different turn.  The question of sharing your “money” to the benefit of the group as a whole, and how and when it should be spent, is the place where deeply ingrained associations with money and self-interest bubble to the surface.  One of the most heated discussions I have had since The Collective was founded was with another collector (at a private view) on the subject of shared ownership and the merits of collecting in this way versus individual ownership of art works.   And we, as a group, have not been immune from minor wrangles over how and where money should be spent.

 

In the Psychological Science of Money  (ed. Erik Bijleveld & Henk Aarts) the assertion

money is a resource, that when used correctly, can bring people together and facilitate memorable experiences” but can equally have “powerful and detrimental consequences to social harmony” (Mead & Stuppy)

provides an interesting reference point from which to compare a model such as The Collective.  The memorable experiences (of which there are many) are in large part down to the collective’s power of pooling resources to buy contemporary art and the individual appreciation of enjoying art in our homes. The inherent value of the art works themselves and how that can be “shared” to everyone’s benefit (should that be a desire) should also be considered.  “Social harmony” may be discordant on the odd occasion, but it has never yet proved “detrimental” as decisions are made collectively and ideas and issues shared openly.

One way The Collective differs from other collectors or collecting groups is that we don’t buy for investment but on the basis that we wish to enjoy contemporary art in our homes and support emerging artists. Where collective groups with purchasing power may have difficulty is when the concept of “not buying for investment” is not fully appreciated and where money becomes part of a “money-market” mind-set and too central to the workings of that particular collective group.   Clear principles have to be laid down in advance and collective decisions need to be made which is why we have a Constitution.   Agreed with lawyers it includes provision for when a member wishes to leave and for the rotating purchasing panels to acquire new works.

“Money”, ultimately, is a resource for the Collective that enables collective buying and sharing of contemporary art.  The interactions between members in the management of this pooled resource is based both on principle (the constitution) and more importantly on trust, reciprocity and social connection between members of the group.  For the Collective this is made easier by the fact four of the six households are related and the remaining two households life-long friends.  We act as “households” not as individuals so there is community within community and an accepted level of sharing across both, whether between households or within families.

Sharing a common purpose where money is necessary but not a driving force, where investment is not a motivation but simply a consequence has proved the best way forward for the longevity of The Collective .

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Untitled, Jochen Klein 1996.  Owned by The Collective

About Ideas

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OO/HO’ Model lamp-post MDF, acrylic, 2012. by Bedwyr Williams. Owned by The Collective

The last remaining days of 2017 and a good time to think about what lies ahead in 2018.

Reflecting on The Collective year that has seen studio visits, exhibitions and of course the Collective’s own showing at Work Place Gallery, Gateshead we continue to enjoy the concept and fruits of our efforts. At the same time we try to work on ideas of where we might go next on a journey that has already lasted more years than we ever thought possible.

Recently I happened to watch the BBC’s replay of the 2016 documentary “who’s afraid of Conceptual art ,presented by Dr James Fox.  As some (though not all) of the contemporary art the Collective has purchased is “conceptual” in nature, and much of the conversation from friends and family who see the art in our homes is on this subject, it was a topic I was keen to watch.  The often heard remark “I could have done that!” or “what a rip-off” when they learn the purchase price, generally points to the fact many people flounder when it comes to the idea of “conceptual” – what it means or a largely “why bother?” attitude as there is no understandable explanation for what they are viewing.

The documentary is well worth a watch. Moving in time from the innovator Marcel Duchamp to contemporary artist Katie Patterson the documentary captures the beginnings and much of the journey conceptual art has taken over the last 100 years. The interviews with some of the current artists are particularly illuminating.

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Work No.233 by Martin Creed. Owned by the Collective: Cubitt Collection

Martin Creed, for example, an artist whose work we have in our Collection. The discreet message (fuck off) of work No.233, written in the top corner of a plain piece of copy paper and given added weight from the blank space below it is typical of Creed’s ability to make “something out of nothing“. It was a work that caused consternation and discussion for six households with children – and often quoted as their favourite work if asked!  Making things that are humorously subversive and don’t please everyone holds appeal for all generations!

In the documentary Martin Creed’s comment when asked about his paper ball work sums up what many of us feel about any artwork, contemporary, conceptual or otherwise.

Who says what is bad or what is good?, if something is exciting or feels good that is the test”

It is subjective.  The real test for us in the Collective comes when we live with a work that we may not personally have been involved in purchasing but have then selected to have in our house until the next exchange.  Deciding whether it makes you feel good or excited can be a challenge but over time can result in a change in the way you feel or what you think when you see it.  It’s about ideas.

But it was artist Robert Montgomery who uses “language”  to create text works in different but often large bright neon lights, billboard poems and woodcuts in public spaces whose comments left a notable impression on me

the point of art is to touch the hearts of strangers without the trouble of ever having to meet them“..

Whilst this is true for the most part in that for the majority of viewers there is no engagement with the artists (nor is engagement desired), but instead our enjoyment is based on how it makes us “feel”, a gut reaction, it is a different concept to how the Collective decides to buy art.  Here we actively encourage engagement with the artist as part of the purchasing process. This enables an understanding of the artist as both ‘creator’ and ‘idea generator’ – a human engagement that connects strangers with artist.  It doesn’t happen on every occasion but wherever possible we strive to make it a trouble worth having!

As Dr James Fox points out “with conceptual art we shouldn’t worry about whether it is art or not but whether it makes us think or not

It’s about ideas.

Happy New year to all!

Visiting Jemima Brown

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Collective members enjoying the seafront at Margate

A day trip to Margate on a bright autumn afternoon had its own appeal. A walk by the sea, a visit to the Turner Contemporary and even an unexpected sighting of a grounded cargo ship narrowly missing an Anthony Gormley iron man!

But a studio visit to artist, Jemima Brown in neighbouring Broadstairs was surely the cream topping to the whole day!   Jemima is well-known to The Collective with our acquisition of both photographic works and her ever provocative sculptures which have surprised friends and tradespeople alike who happened to be visiting our homes.

A multi-disciplinary and award winning artist, Jemima produces works with different cultural and (increasingly) political narratives, often focussing on women’s own exploration of self-identity expressed through different lifestyles.  From her own self-image, Dolly, London hipsters, political wives or Greenham Common protesters Jemima explores the various identities via different mediums.  The Collective is home to two of her large (nearly life-size) sculptures, Headless Woman and Beigelbird, constructed via a complex series of processes from 3D imaging and processing to casting, modelling and adding discarded clothing.  Assuming a life of their own the “sculptural assemblages” are quite distinct in character and evoke quite different emotions, some of which I have described in a previous blog

The Collective own just one of the sculptures. The second is on loan to us as we make a decision which one to keep. Unusually it has split the Collective down the middle.  We have discussed at length the merits of both, or either, and voted on the one to keep, not once, but twice. But no resolution has so far been reached.  We hoped to draw inspiration from our visit to see Jemima and find out if she could help us reach a conclusion.  Instead our eyes and minds were swept away by some of Jemima’s newer works

Moving out to Broadstairs has changed the balance in Jemima’s working life.  Frustrated by the sometimes dysfunctional nature of life in London (and much less studio time than she needed) moving out and creating a studio in her own home has allowed her to enter a more reflective period, where she has a real chance to develop different directions and ideas.

“It’s much more productive” says Jemima “but there are compromises to be made

IMG_0872Having a studio at home and balancing family life her environment is much more “domestic” all round – ” but you have to see it as an asset rather than a liability”.

She continues to weave in found objects to her figurative explorations  (this time more domestic in nature).

The biggest conundrum for Jemima is the lack of  gallery representation, having proactively walked away twice from such relationships .

Now, what I gain in extra time and reflection for my work I lose in opportunity provided by gallery representation.  Institutions are not interested in invisible artists” .

But Jemima continues to keep her links in London, working there twice a week and so keeping pace with what’s happening. Jemima is currently showing in Collateral Drawing 5 in Folkestone with her intriguing wallpaper designs where she used her “doll” sculptures as models for the drawings in her designs.

The increased impact of politics is evident in some of the newer works we saw in her studio. Never missing an opportunity to comment on the people who live in her broader community she invites a more local and involved view around some key events.

 

There is something unexpected and yet entirely natural about Jemima’s work and the more you look, the more you see and ruminate on the questions being asked by those cultural and political contexts she creates for the viewer.  It’s all in the detail.

Are we any closer to making a choice between Beigelbird and Headless Woman?

 

Story power

 

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Fresco from Akrotiri, Thera 16th century BC. Wikimedia Commons

Everyone has a story to tell and all of us enjoy hearing a good story.

Story telling, across all cultures, has been around for centuries and its power to engage the human mind is recognised beyond reasonable doubt, whatever the medium used to deliver it and for whatever reason it is used.  Well before the written word people told stories through speech, performance and art understanding the power they held to make sense of the world, to immortalise events, to evoke human emotion and pass on traditions.  Story telling has defined our history and as a long-time-ago student of prehistory the single most defining attraction to me was that there were no written words to account for the ancient cultures I studied. What we have is their art, their creations – their artefacts, to piece together the story of their culture. Each tiny artefact telling its own unique story.

There is a science to stories and the way in which humans respond to them.  Darwin noted that there was a biology to how we interact with stories within the context of our particular social environment. So what might be a forbidden fruit to a particular culture, with dire consequences if consumed, causes no reaction if eaten unknowingly by the same recipients.

“Stories configure contextual triggers and the expected emotional reactions of our culture—perhaps defining a sort of emotional grammar.”
The idea that “the human mind is a story processor and not a logic processor” is the

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The story of Herakles with Cerberus. 6th century BC vase painting. Wikimedia Commons

foundation of so many fantastical myths over many cultures. Myths that stimulate the imagination with a world full of characters and events that are at once both unreal and yet able to explain man’s challenges or follies. Is this how we learn to navigate our human place in the world? is this how we best make sense of it?

So powerful is the desire of the human brain to detect patterns, not just in visual forms, but in the stories we hear that it can apparently lead us to see them when they are not actually there! Sound familiar?  In 1944 a controlled experiment was carried out with 34 adults in Massachusetts, USA.  The participants were asked to look at a short film and explain what was happening in it.  The film showed shapes moving across a two-dimensional surface (two triangles and a circle) with an additional half-open rectangle stationary on one side.  33 of the 34 participants came up with intricate and emotional human stories, including one involving men (triangles) fighting over a woman (circle) . Only one of the participants saw it as shapes moving on a screen.

21st century business has understood for some time the power of story-telling – especially “character driven stories with emotional content” (whatever the medium used). Such stories help the best speakers drive home their main points, trigger different emotions and are easier to recall for the listeners.  The story of the customer experience blown open at its worst moment and resolved with empathy might bring greater trust? The altruistic actions of employees that helped change the lives of those more disadvantaged than themselves might bring more purpose? These are the stories that help build understanding or perhaps encourage new directions.  That isn’t to say everyone does it well – or at all, but their motivational capability and association with potential resolutions is recognised.

So how are stories communicated in contemporary art? It was not until the 20th century photo 2 (4)that narrative art started to be replaced by more abstract and conceptual themes, when stories could be evoked without being told and left to the viewer to interpret or not.  That isn’t to say that narrative wasn’t an option for artists but the purely abstract works provided a new stream of thought alongside more traditional narrative forms.  How often, when visiting an exhibition, or just discussing contemporary abstract art do you here

sorry, I just don’t get it, what is it?” or “is that art? – what does it mean?

How do we make sense of the nonsensical? How do we read the patterns or colours? For some it may overwhelm and for others it will trigger thoughts and emotions that provide a connection that satisfies the need for a narrative.

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For members of the Collective there is an added layer to the story of each art work.  A layer that comes from the process of purchasing it, the interactions with the artists themselves and the reactions of the people who pass through our homes as we exchange
or purchase new works.   We re-tell the stories of our experiences within and outside the Collective just as our children recount theirs and their friends reactions to some of the works.

 

It all adds up to a multilayered narrative that is our story.

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Bobby Dowler, Odd painting 1. Owned by the Collective

The head of Kim Jong-un

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“Is it really him?, is it Kim Jong-un?” they asked.  Called “Head” there was no certainty provided by the title. “Where is it from?”.   Catapulted to the forefront of recent news events over missile capability, nuclear arms and the potential threat to the US – Kim Jong-un was up there at the top of their minds. But was it him?   Although completely recognisable could this remarkable little drawing be the portrait of someone else?   I needed to find out.

Created by Lisa Wilkens and drawn with Chinese ink on old stock East German paper The Collective purchased this and two other works in 2013 from Sluice Art Fair.  This portrayal of the man, drawn with such precision and to such a small-scale on a very large piece of paper is intriguing.  What is its significance?

Apart from living with the art works day-to-day, The Collective has always sought opportunities to visit artists studios and connect with the artists themselves. More than that – we try to incorporate it as part of how we make purchases.  Every work has a story attached to it whether it is focussed on how we purchased it, the studio visit, or the reactions and conversations to each one from visitors to our homes .  This aspect of how we collect particularly struck me when Workplace Gallery exhibited half of our collection to the public: the stories around each art work and the personalities of Collective members were invisible to the public.

So it happened, that this particular reaction to “Head” from my son and his friends encouraged me to get back in touch with Lisa herself and see if she would be happy to have a chat with me about the works we had  – and to catch up on what she was doing. Was it the head of the North Korean leader (now so topical)?  Why him?, why was the scale of the drawing set within such a large piece of paper?  Why the chosen mediums of old GDR paper and Chinese ink? Lisa responded immediately and agreed to have a call.

After working with Wysing Art Studios and Paper Gallery  Lisa decided it was time to “push herself more” and has joined a post academic 2 year research programme in Gent, Belgium where she has both studio space and access to a wide variety of visiting artists, curators, theorists and visiting lecturers.

I have space to experiment and to test without having to produce works for a specific outcome like an exhibition – whatever idea, interest and concern I have, and then see where these ideas go”

Motivated very much by personal interest and concern in politics and history Lisa created both the “head” and 141_img“drones” during the period after her father died.

It was her father who would encourage political discussion and an interest in history and his passing came at the time of the last North Korean crisis when Kim Jong-un first came to power .

The use of materials from two communist states – ink from China for her detailed drawings (a technique she learnt in a previous scientific illustration degree) and old, yellowing stock paper obtained from an aunt in East Germany, seem to provide the work with a certain cohesion. A symbolic representation of a communist ideology brought together as one work and charged with questions, messages and an indiscernible meaning as we look on the head of Kim Jong-un.

When I asked Lisa about the small-scale of the drawing in contrast to the size of the paper used she explained

The world is too overcrowded and complex. It has to be broken down in to small and isolated pieces to allow time – and space – to think and reflect

Lisa believes that the technique used to execute the drawings “almost disappear” after the drawing is completed which gives you freedom to reflect on the politics and history of the space.

The dismembered head was a chance to focus on the features of Kim Jong-un’s face – a man with an almost child-like appearance with enormous power at his fingertips. The isolated head spoke to the idea of a “head of state”, an authoritarian rule, communism portrayed almost as a joke.

We ended the conversation talking about the importance of art in domestic spaces which Lisa believes can have a lasting impact on art and culture, perhaps more than the big art fairs. She believes that living with art is much more likely to generate discussion and thought, whether about the artist, the techniques or the subject matter.  That desire to produce work that asks questions is so important to the way she produces her art irrespective of the longevity of the materials she uses. Interpretation itself is not essential.

As we said our goodbyes I couldn’t help thinking how inspiring the conversation had been.  Now I look at “Head” on the wall across from the table and I see a new layer of appreciation and reflection.  A new depth to the story, whatever I might read in to it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the season to be …at an art Biennial

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Couple on Venetian bridge by Tim Eastop

Venice has the ability to conjure up a wide variety of imaginings from romantic trysts to historic and cultural forays. With its numerous canals winding their way between the small islands of the old town and joined by little bridges under which the famous gondoliers guide their mesmerised visitors, its magic reputation over-rides anything else.

It’s historic stage also plays host to the largest and most well-known theatre for contemporary art – the Venice Biennale.  The juxtaposition of old and new is a fascinating one and seems to point more to the history of internationalism that Venice built through its history.  As a centre for trade across the Mediterranean reaching toward the eastern markets of Constantinople, the Venetian Republic attracted

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18th century view of Venice by Canaletto.  Wikipedia commons

traders and dazzled visitors for many centuries.  It still does.

Held every odd year and begun in 1895 to celebrate the silver anniversary of the accession to the throne of King Umberto I of Italy and his consort, Margherita of Savoy the Venice Biennale now attracts around half a million visitors for the six months it is open . Showcasing the latest trends in art, architecture, film and dance and the best representative creators for their country – it’s an honour to be asked to participate knowing that curators from far and wide, millionaire collectors, celebrities, dealers and gallery owners are pulled by its legacy magnetism.  This year the Venice Biennale boasts 86 country pavilions with 28 in the Giardini and the rest in the Arsenale, the city’s former shipyard, with the curated main show, titled “Arte Viva Arte”, showing works by 120 artists from 51 countries.  The scope seems unimaginable to most.

Whether it is the scale or the masses who patiently wait in queues to attend the shows and pavilions, it puts a completely different perspective on the art world from our own domestic adventures with sharing contemporary art in our homes. For The Collective it is like looking through a telescope at a vast universe expanding in front of us and yet with definite links and opportunities back to our earth.

It is from the biennials that trends may be set, artists emerge, names are established, think tanks initiate discussion and large sums are circulated in the future global art market determining market prices.  Names of artists whose works we have in the Collective have featured in previous biennials (Chris Ofili and Tracy Emin). Despite the fact biennials are not about the exchange of money for works and the Venice Biennale banned the actual selling of art works in 1968 – the event remains an integral part of the global art market and its increasing commercialisation.

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Untitled by Chris Ofili. Owned by The Collective

The Biennial Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2009 as a platform for art biennials around the world, lists a huge global network  – with the crowning event being the Venice Biennale.  Documenta in Germany, not a biennial, but an equally important event is held every five years and runs concurrently with Venice this year.  As the two most eminent art events in the world there is definite competition and curators often come under scrutiny from the art critics for the artists they select.  Other biennials in major cities (eg Sao Paolo, Istanbul or Moscow) compete for well-known artists and established curators understanding their value in terms of their own national art cultures and attracting tourism.

The art world has never been bigger or more international and it’s a good season to get a taste of it if you happen to be travelling to Venice or Kassel.  But at the end of the day it’s also about what works we chose to live with on a daily basis and the journey we go on with the artists to acquire them, and later share amongst the households of the Collective.

Workplace Gallery: The Collective goes public

 

The Old Post Office in Gateshead, a 19th century grade 2 listed building that is now home to WorkPlace Gallery, was appropriately built on the site of the studio of the 18th century British artist and naturalist Thomas Bewick, so maintaining the location’s dedication to art.  Founded in 2002 to promote artists in the north-east, Workplace Gallery has now become an established part of the British cultural art scene with an additional gallery in Mayfair London opened in 2013.   For The Collective, founded in the same year as Workplace, it was a unique opportunity to open up a part of our collection to the public and introduce the idea of collective buying and sharing of contemporary art for domestic spaces to new audiences in the north-east of England.

As we entered the Gateshead gallery on a brilliant sunny afternoon in May, the first thing that struck me was the effect of seeing the works in a gallery space, rather than surrounded by the trappings of our various domestic existences.   Suddenly the diversity of our collection seemed all the more pronounced and intriguing with Gallery directors Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow quizzing us on possible themes within the collection.  This is usually difficult to determine as most works are bought on an individual basis by different buying panels within the Collective and the works then spread across six households.

Given this exhibition represented only half of the Founding Collective’s collection it was an eye-opener to see how far we had come with a limited monthly investment over the last 15 years. Artist names, once less known – now well-known!

As I looked at the works on the gallery wall what I began to see more vividly than before was the different acquisition “stories” behind each one, the different Collective members, the research, the learning, the gallery and studio visits with the artists.  Was it possible to determine, not themes, but the characters and influences of different Collective members over the choice of certain artists and works?  And then there were the memories of reactions to the art works within our households and the history of anecdotes that go with many of them.  Each work seemed to have a life of its own, now brought together in a single gallery space to an unsuspecting exhibition audience.

Workspace Gallery talkThe opening was preceded by an informal discussion chaired by the Gallery’s Co-Directors about the Collective, how it began, how it worked and expanded, and where we had got to today. Bob Lee and myself spoke about every aspect with contributions from members Tim Eastop and Paul Tanner.  The questions that followed were often focussed on the practicalities of the Collective objectives, the constitution, the insurance, succession, our families – all of them important elements in the success and longevity of such a co-operative way of collecting between households. Investment, however modest will always be a source of anxiety across a diverse group of people.  The individual discussions with participants after the panel discussion were equally illuminating often with very frank remarks about what they would find acceptable in their homes and what they would not!  I didn’t hesitate to remind them that having a work that was not to my taste was often part of the learning curve inherent in being part of a collective  – seeing how my relationship would change by living with the work over a period of months. It usually did.

Over the course of the evening the steady flow of visitors was impressive ranging from those working in the arts, fine art students, curators from Baltic and interested art collectors. This was especially gratifying as the exhibition was not about a represented artist(s) but about a different way of collecting amongst a group of households bound together by an interest in buying and sharing contemporary art at home.

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The Workplace Gallery start to fill up as the evening progresses

Towards the end one of the visitors said to me “I can tell how much you enjoy it from the way you talk about it” .  Fifteen years on that wasn’t a bad place to be!

Many thanks to Paul Moss and Miles Thurlow for all their hard work in putting together the Collective exhibition (on until the 3rd June) and ensuring its success at the wonderful Workplace Gallery, Gateshead!

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A view across the Tyne that bridges Newcastle with Gateshead

 

 

Stories about The Collective Founding group – a group dedicated to buying, collecting and sharing contemporary art in the home for the last sixteen years. Written by group member, Marie-Louise Collard, it is based on personal experience.

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