As I walked in to the beautifully vaulted gallery of Studio Voltaire in south London I couldn’t help but be impressed by the space and atmosphere. Tucked away down a small street in Clapham the converted Victorian church was already filled with people viewing the art in their current “open” exhibition. With an immediate sense of the day at work lifting off my shoulders and being replaced by a renewed energy it’s a great place to start a conversation about how we, as collective of six households buy our art.
If you are going to support contemporary emerging artists by buying their art you need to go to where they are working or where they are showing (or both)– from art fairs and auctions to galleries and studios. How we then buy as a Collective group is determined by a “purchasing panel” – comprised of a representative group from three of the households. The idea behind the purchasing panel is to allow those members on it more time to focus on meeting curators and artists than the rest of the group – and then buy to their tastes at that particular moment in time – not that of the group as a whole. But what they must do is stick to the budget of available funds which is established at the beginning of the process. This means that the art is not always to everyone’s taste – but there is a sense of excitement and anticipation of what living with something you may not actually like brings. Sound odd? As Alastair Sooke pointed out in the Culture shows slot on the Collective “It’s an unconventional way to buy art” but it allows us to find out more about the artist and appreciate a different or more complete experience in buying a work. Buying for us is not about investment, it’s not about resale value – its about living with art in our homes in a way we can afford and enjoy. It’s also about challenging our visual sensibility in a domestic setting – giving a different perspective to a very familiar surrounding.
Studio Voltaire houses more than 45 artists from graduates to those with international reputations – and has an attached gallery space – so it’s a perfect setting for us to find out more about some of London’s emerging artists and look for potential purchases. Talking to the artists themselves as often as possible is the best way to make a purchase. On this visit none of us were on the purchasing panel so it was more about finding out what’s new, who’s showing and even talking to potential new recruits who wish to set up their own Collective group. We weren’t disappointed.
Jemima Brown, whose photographs and full size sculptures we already have in our collection was there with her Tabletop peacecamp – a mixed media group of women’s torsos on old street lamps and camp stoves born out of her memories of the Greenham Common women’s peace camp of the early 80s near where she grew up. Talking to her about how she made and painted the individual faces, where she collected her materials and what significance the piece held in her memory brought a flood of my own memories back on that unique and ultimately influential movement against nuclear weapons. Jemima has spent a lot of time making sculptures of women but “playing with scale” in the case of these sculptures enabled her to use the found objects associated with Greenham as torsos in these unique works. Jemima likes the flexibility of the pieces “working on their own” and “working as a collected arrangement”.
I also got the chance to have a chat with Zeynep Meric-Smith who is interested in setting up her own Collective group in London, and her friend Lorna, who challenged me with her great love of art but her dislike of collective groups! I enjoyed the honest and frank discussion but we did end up agreeing on one thing: the need to differentiate between a group of “collectors” whose raison d’être is to invest in art and the effect of which is to drive art prices up – and a “collective group” who buy art cooperatively to make it affordable and share it in and between their homes. At the end of the day we are collectors – but our intention is different.