Portrait of a group as an individual

It’s been a longer summer recess from blogging than I imagined – or wished for! Though that shouldn’t be mistaken for inactivity . The opportunity to step back, assess and think can be the most active and creative of tasks and all too often swallowed up by the process of daily life.

Simon Lee Gallery

One of the highlights for me in the last couple of months was an opportunity to talk to Ceri Hand, Associate Director (Institutions) at the Simon Lee Gallery in central London.  With 25 years of experience working in the art world  as a curator, arts manager, director, commissioner, producer and fund raiser (to name a few!), it was a perfect opportunity to ask how she saw The Collective. With our own method of collective buying and dialogue with artists , our interaction with galleries and yet our existence outside the gallery programme, gaining an experienced outsiders view on how we fitted in to contemporary art thought and practice was what I was hoping for. I wasn’t disappointed.

The Collective’s first meeting with Ceri was as Director of the Ceri Hand Gallery  where

Mel Brimfield: On Board 2010. Owned by The Collective

we purchased Mel Brimfield’s “On Board” [2010] A bold and evocative print with suggestions of an antiquated notion of women and domesticity (or death of!) that has inspired many conversations amongst visitors and viewers in our homes.  Watching male members of my household iron always evokes an image of this work in my mind!

One of Ceri’s first remarks about the Collective was around the “the ethos of the collection itself” where the collection is in “the hands of multiple people in multiple houses who are having multiple conversations with multiple ideas and voices around one piece of work”.  This principle is then in dialogue with other works which creates an exciting dynamic that artists would naturally support.  “If one took a snapshot of an individual household at any one time and put it alongside the snapshots of five other household interiors, the kind of dialogue that is generated would be fascinating” 

Bedwyr Williams: OO/HO model lamp post 2012. Owned by The Collective

Finding new audiences and expanding discussions on individual artworks can also stimulate a wider discourse on contemporary art and culture more generally.

I was interested to find out from Ceri what her experience was of the way in which individual collectors interacted with artists whose works they purchased?  Were they buying for investment? From favoured galleries and curators? Did they rarely meet the artists, or was there potential for a deeper interaction, which is so favoured by the Collective where we regularly visit artist studios? “Everyone is unique”, says Ceri.

Ceri explained that there was a lot of education and discussion by the gallery curators around an artist and their work, and some collectors do form very deep relationships with the artists and continue to buy their work through their careers.  For others however it is not about wanting “to know” the artist but about the significance of the work to the buyer, who may feel that by meeting the artist that “meaning” might be altered, and so shy away from any interaction.

This was a fascinating insight and a reverse process to many of us in the Collective.  As we are a mixed group of people with different tastes the purchasing panel may buy work that is not to the taste of every member.  By meeting and talking to the artist that perception often alters, combined with living with the work on a day-to-day basis so that what starts out as “unlikeable”changes to “likeable”.

The Collective is great in the way you encourage each other to look again” says Ceri  “and exciting from a gallery’s perspective in terms of bringing you in to see different works”. For Ceri, working with museums and institutions, any opportunity to open up conversations to a wider audience is a top priority.

Susanne Treister: Obama with 9 eyes 2009. Owned by The Collective

I was very interested to hear Ceri’s view on our “what next” dialogue for the Collective and possible suggestions for a new direction.  Ceri felt that as supporters and investors of contemporary art thought and practice through The Collective that we have become, as a group, “patrons”. Viewed in this way we should look to other ways of making contributions that could support arts organisations and widen the audiences and dialogue around works, whether emerging artists or entry works from known artists that are rarely covered.

Loaning (or even donating) some of our works to regional galleries where there is less resource for acquisitions would be one such route.  At the same time programming talks around such loans would be a way to expand the idea of “the Collective” and draw on new regional audiences.  Partnerships with arts organisations where we could support research ideas in different areas through our own acquisitions was another idea (e.g performance art, women artists).

Despite the short amount of time I had with Ceri, it was idea intensive and very thought provoking.  I arrived quite drenched and anxious (thanks to a cloud burst at the moment I walked out) but left both dry and inspired by our conversation.

My favourite take away remarks was her view that the Collective was “a portrait of a group of people as individuals and as households” which held great potential with many multiples for an extended dialogue around art works.   How true.

Many thanks to Ceri Hand.





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