In June I met with Tatjana Schaefer, a Masters student at Goldsmiths University, London, studying Arts Administration and Cultural Policy. Tatjana was interested in analysing “the phenomenon of group collections versus the exclusive stand of the art patron” and wanted to understand more about the concept of our Collective. Recently I asked her if I could post her questions in this blog as it might be useful for others wishing to find out more about our aims and ideas – and how we differ from other collectors in the art market. She kindly agreed.
Q1 [Tatjana]. What does collecting art mean to you personally within the context of the Collective?
A1 [Marie-Louise]. The idea of acquiring art collectively was born out of a shared passion for contemporary art by all of us in the Collective. We wanted to find a way to be able to afford to buy, share and live with contemporary art in our homes on a cooperative basis. We wanted the work we chose to provoke and even disrupt in a way that provided more critical engagement. We needed to do it in such a way that fitted in with family life, we could share it, exchange it and circulate it around the six households. The majority of us are not involved in the Arts professionally, though two members are and have acted as guides. We wanted it to be more than just about acquiring a piece of art – we wanted to provide a deeper art experience by visiting artists studios and connecting with the artists whose art we wanted to purchase . So it was also a way to collect art experiences as well as art works. The buying process is a collective experience led by a purchasing panel usually composed of one member from three of the households. The purchasing panel has a budget range agreed with the others, but is otherwise at liberty to purchase according to their interests and tastes, rather than the entire group. During their time on the panel members are expected to visit galleries, shows, private views and the artists studios before making the final purchase. All members take turns to be on a purchasing panel. The other members can accompany the panel on its visits, offering thoughts and comments.
Occasionally there are “exceptional buys” which enables one-off purchases to be made outside of the purchasing panel. For example one of the members may see something at a show/exhibition that is an excellent example of a new work by an emerging artist and really good value. If they are not on the purchasing panel they can nevertheless recommend to the the Collective that, providing the funds are there – we make this purchase. If everyone agrees then the work can be purchased. This year a few of us went to Drawing Room’s Biennial event and did exactly this, ending up bidding for and acquiring a drawing, “Hang Man” by eastablished artist Mark Wallinger, “
Q1.1 [Tatjana]Is the Collective a stable group of households?
A1.1 [Marie-Louise]Yes, it is made up of 6 households. Originally it was seven, but one of the households emigrated after the first year. So for the last 12-13 years there have been the same six households.
Q1.2 [Tatjana] Would you take on any new households to your group?
A1.2 [Marie-Louise]As we’ve been established for so long, it would be difficult to take on new members to our group. Instead we would rather encourage them to set up their own group – and we do have other groups around the country, in Scotland and Holland.
Q2. [Tatjana] Collecting has always been regarded as a “personal passion” and for most it is about building a collection as an act of individual creativity based on particular tastes. How is this realised in a Collective context as individuals can be so different in their personal tastes? Do you all have similar ideas and tastes about what should be purchased?
A2. No, not at all. Part of the experience of the Collective is about living with art that we may really like or not like that much. The challenge of living with art opens up lots of new experiences, for better or for worse. Unlike visiting a gallery where you can walk away from something you like less and never see it again, living with contemporary art allows you to spend time with a particular art work, see it at different times, with different moods and form a relationship with it. It may not be your taste, but it can still be a valuable experience provoking new questions and ways of “seeing” differently. Living with art can influence or change your perception, together with meeting the artists and understanding more about their creative process to produce a particular work. You can grow to like something that you did not like at first glance.The purchasing panel are at liberty to buy according to their tastes at that moment in time, not the tastes of the entire Collective.
As households the art also impacts the rest of the family – children, teenagers, friends, family and visitors. Teenagers are the hardest to please!
Q3 [Tatjana]. What does the Collection itself (the works) mean to the Collective and does that meaning differ significantly from the reasons a typical art market collector would be collecting?
A3 [Marie-Louise]. First thing to say is that we don’t collect art for investment. We are a Collective that buys and shares art
collaboratively and cooperatively. We collect because we love contemporary art and we have a desire to share and “live” with art. As our budgets are small we focus on emerging artists at the beginning of their careers as that is what is affordable for us. That said there are many artists now in our collection who have become more well known on an international level including Chris Ofili, Tracy Emin, Bruce McLean, Tacita Dean, Wolfgang Tillmans, and more recently Michael Armitage. There are many individual collectors who collect art for the same reasons as us but what separates us is our collaborative approach and that we collect, share and discuss experiences along with the purchase of art works. Ownership belongs to the group, not an individual, though purchases are made by each purchasing panel and not the entire group. Performance art is also included in our “collecting process” as we embark on our second performance piece this autumn.
As a Collective we have reached a point in its development where we are evaluating the collection as our twice yearly exchanges have become harder to co-ordinate because of the size of the Collection (over 50 works) and our homes have almost reach capacity in what we can display. So selling some of the works has become a consideration for us. Under discussion is what we may do with the money if we did sell part of the collection – invest in new works, hire a curator for a fixed period of time or go on a cultural trip as a Collective? This may be a different experience for an individual collector or an investor collector. The Collective is not there just to acquire art but to collect experiences related to art, so simply reinvesting the money in new works is only one consideration we are discussing. It’s about the “whole package” – something other than just acquiring and handing over money for an art work.
In terms of what it means to us, the experience of the Collective itself has had a profound affect on most of us and in two cases spilled over in to our work place where we have introduced art projects in to non-art environments. These have been captured in separate blogs
Q4.[Tatjana] How is each Collective group formed and how does it evolve over the course of time?
A4. [Marie-Louise] We are the Founding Collective and we have a constitution in place setting out the structure required, it’s aims and principles. With the help of funding from Arts Council England we were able to help set up more groups around the country – in London, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge. New groups are asked to follow our model though there is flexibility to suit local circumstances and cultural differences. More recently groups have been set up in Edinburgh and Rotterdam .New groups are guided and helped by us as much as possible though how they evolve is not something that we monitor regularly. We try to meet up annually so that all the groups come together in one location to discuss progress and ideas. We’ve had a number of exhibitions over the years where we’ve asked a curator to select works from across the groups. Hannah Higham, curator of modern and contemporary art at Norwich Castle Museum, produced a great show one year in Cambridge.
As the Founding Group we would like the Collective to continue to spread beyond the boundaries of the original group, maintaining the original model but remaining flexible enough to absorb local and cultural differences to suit each instance.