A corporate communications manager with a passion for contemporary art and a member of a Founding Collective that continues to buy, collect and share art in domestic surroundings. "It's a continuous learning curve both personally and professionally".
Bob Lee was an inspiration to so many. He came to any conversation often with radical ideas, opinions and an enthusiasm that could persuade you to do what you had always wanted to do, but somehow never had the confidence to pull off, the very next day. He would look at you with a cunning smile and say “Why not? What d’you think?”
So it was that one evening in a London pub a small gathering with Bob at the centre, wrote down a few key notes for setting up The Collective – a simple but unique way to collect and share contemporary art works between seven households in London. Seventeen years later it is still going and has over 65 artworks that we still share between us. Bob will always remain at the centre of our Collective thinking but very sadly he is no longer with us. After a long battle with cancer, he passed away on the 20th September with his family at his side.
Bob’s passion for the arts was as vital as his commitment to politics and the causes he supported throughout his life. He never did anything in halves but immersed himself in a way that gave him a rare ability to talk to curators and artists with an ease that won him respect and friendships in many different circles as if he’d been doing it all his life.
Clutching on to a well-wrapped artwork as he fell overboard a Dutch barge (the home of another Collective member) in to the Thames was probably a memory we would all rather forget, but remains etched in the Collective’s history. Unable to swim well he was rapidly plucked out of the water still clutching on to an unharmed art work determined to make sure the work took priority.
“I think it’s OK” he said referring to the artwork as he shivered from the cold wet dip. Both survived well from the experience.
Bob’s energy seemed endless moving from work to family to attending private views in the evening, and art fairs and exhibitions when they came along. As his knowledge of artists grew he always had an eye out for the next purchase – often succumbing to what became known as a “side order” – a purchase for his own personal collection if he couldn’t persuade the Collective’s purchasing panel of the moment that we should buy a particular work. “it was an excellent opportunity – it would have been crazy to miss it” he would be heard exclaiming.
When it came to reasoned argument he was a master, quelling minor storms in opinion over purchases or exchange bids and suggesting ideas for the next Collective step in a journey that had already lasted much longer than any of us anticipated. He listened with equal measure to the thoughts of others, never wishing to dismiss alternative opinions and encouraging to the end, but somehow managing to win us around to his viewpoint without us noticing. Discussion (and a glass of wine) were surely the best route to making good decisions.
People and family were central to Bob’s life and from which much of his thinking emanated. His role as a founding member of the Collective was no coincidence but deeply embedded in what he liked doing most – sharing, appreciating, discussing and being open to new ways of looking at the world through art.
His loss will be felt by so many and yet his legacy will remain in our minds and hearts for ever.
Our thoughts are with his wife Jo, and his two children Manu and Olivia.
Just last week I read an article about how over-used the word ‘busy’ has become to describe how we are to anyone who might ask. Should you be the type of person to use it frequently, it simply points to the fact you are not managing your time correctly. Whilst there is always room for improvement I always think a better question might be “are you making time to consider how you feel?” The reality is, as we know, every one is in such a constant state of rushing and with attention spans akin to a bolt of lightening, that we rarely stop to consider anything. We just ‘do’, constantly seeking the next experience.
The Slow Art movement is not new and always strikes me as rather counter-intuitive to what the big museums and art galleries actually desire in numbers. If everyone slowed down to absorb more of each art work for a lengthened period of time how would queues be managed? How would art institutions raise the funds they need through entrance fees (where applicable) as fewer people might be admitted per day? Having spent an hour queueing to get in to the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris recently just to get through security, followed by a further queue to get a ticket, and then another to leave your bag, the very idea of ‘slow appreciation’ was hampered by the fact we had no time left to make the most of the great art works in front of us. It felt like a visitor production line and with little seating it was not conducive to slow appreciation. In fact the whole experience made me want to speed through the gallery rooms and make a rapid escape from the fifth floor.
But one experience should not put a shadow on other visits where standing in front of an artwork and observing the brush strokes and lines that make up the work set your heart racing in appreciation. Or watching attentive groups of visitors being guided round by experts who help to share all the things you might have missed. Is it a ‘style of looking‘ reserved for the more elite that requires the ability to listen and to pay attention to the minutia (or the obvious) of what is being pointed out?
Or is “Slow Art” simply ‘a way of describing the modern experience of art itself. ….. which rewards lingering, “slow” attention and thought.’
In 2001 a study by two scientists in empirical aesthetics examined visitors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, measuring time spent by 150 visitors looking at seven art works. The mean time recorded was 27.2 seconds per art work. In all likelihood this has not changed very much or even decreased, with Arden Reed quoting a much lower figure for US museum-goers in his more recent book.
But does it matter to the average museum-goer if what they get from those 27.2 seconds (or less) is the reward they seek? If it creates a moment in time where visual gratification combines with evoking the right emotion and understanding for the viewer, surely it doesn’t matter to the non-expert how long they spend in front of each art work? However, offering the opportunity to see it through the lens of an expert should always be a consideration should you wish to learn and understand with a more critical and knowledgable eye. Do people visit galleries to receive visual pleasure or heightened appreciation for a world seen so differently to their own?. Or do they visit art galleries to gain knowledge and think differently?
In his book ‘Slow Art‘ Arden Reed argues that 250 years ago there was no slow art – because ‘life was just slow in general’ whilst in today’s modern experience “Slow Art can give us the kind of consolation that everyone is looking for.” The artworks “need us to bring them to life with our attention…” or rather our slow appreciation.
But if we suppose that today’s art experience might be based more on instant gratification and a quest for continuous new experiences, perhaps the 27.2 seconds is sufficient and what’s required is more art and more innovative experiences with art? Does it need to be slow to appreciate it? It certainly needs to be slow-er to learn more about the artist and understand the detail and circumstance.
The concept of Slow Art has been an unacknowledged concept for The Collective ever since it was first set up. But not in the sense of an hour spent per art work in a gallery, but in six months spent living with an art work. Isn’t this slow art in the extreme?
It is not the first time I have mentioned the appreciation that comes with living with art. You see it in morning light. You see it at night, or when a visitor asks you about it on a weekend afternoon. You see it through a range of different emotions, through the peaks and troughs of your daily life and through the different seasons. You may have participated in its purchase, or selected it during an exchange. You may have visited the artist’s studio and understood a wealth of knowledge that brings a fresh perspective. You may have disliked it, but found it grew on you with time. Either way you get to immerse yourself in a way that makes the current concept of ‘slow art’ seem more akin to a flash in the pan. And just when the works have started to become invisible through familiarity, we have an exchange that sees a whole new landscape spread across our homes. Is this the Collective way of endorsing Reed’s words when he says “artworks need us to bring them to life with our attention…. But it is also good for the observer”. In our case a Collective good.
If the impact of ‘slow art’ is cumulative, as Reed suggests, living with art can only help teach us more about ‘how to look‘ and ‘how to be generous with other objects’ . Ultimately it will help teach us how to enjoy individual works more fully and satisfy what we are really seeking by looking at art in the first place. Pleasure, insight and knowledge.
It’s not always easy to explain to people why you are passionate about a subject, or why you decide to create a concept that takes you down a defined and creative path. Yet, as members of ‘The Collective’ we are often asked “what inspired you?’ , ‘What brought you together to where you are now?’
The fact is, we’ve reached an interesting hiatus where physical space has started to constrain how much more art we can accommodate in our homes. At the same time this has been met with a collective desire to evolve and adapt. As society and the world at large is in a state of constant and rapid change, this is no surprise. The whole idea of exploring new experiences should be a pre-requisite to preserving the concept of ‘The Collective’ for the future.
As we talk to curators and artists we receive a lot of affirmation and encouragement for what we do now, but less for a move in a different direction. The appeal is the co-operative process, the domestic context we operate in, the introduction to new audiences and the love the artists have that their work is constantly ‘seen’ in different homes and environments across the Collective. It is not only enjoyed – but a focus for discussion. The art assumes a life of its own.
So is the The Collective evolving or transitioning? ‘Transition’ is a very over used term these days and means multiple things in different circumstances.
Many artists use transition techniques to draw the eye across a canvas and help tell a story or evoke an emotion in a particular way. In business we associate it with strategy, goals and planning in order to realise a smooth change with more profitable outcomes. It has meaning in music, in physics, in nature, in child birth and many more aspects of life besides. There are limitless ways to describe ‘transition’ and what it offers.
The English Oxford dictionary defines it as
“The process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another.
So are we, The Collective, experiencing a period of change which will ultimately alter our story? – or are we simply exploring new avenues to what we do whilst keeping our original objectives and ‘state’ in tact? Put more simply are we going through a new period of development in our evolution? The problem is there is not another model quite like it to use as a comparison.
For those of you who follow this blog you will remember that ‘In the beginning’
The idea was straight forward: we would buy art “collectively” and share it by meeting up on a regular basis and “exchanging it” between households.
We’ve evolved a lot since then: growing other groups nationally, sharing performance experiences, visits to art fairs and artist studios, giving talks, and having the opportunity to exhibit as we did most recently at Work Place Gallery, Gateshead.
But the story doesn’t end there. Next year will see the beginning of a new adventure, a journey down a different path that will still keep close to our founding ideas but perhaps explore ‘experience’ further, rather than focus on acquisition. Though that might still be the final collective outcome.
Until then I’d like to wish everyone a very happy and peaceful festive season
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
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 personal 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 and inspirational capability and association with potential resolutions is recognised.
So how are stories communicated in contemporary art? It was not until the 20th century 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.
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.
Whilst I’m not one to make excuses, my blogging absence over the summer is less to do with the unusual summer’s heat, or ‘writer’s block’, and more to do with a momentous family event.
So I’ve decided to do a minor detour and share the most memorable of performance pieces right here. Like most performances it required considerable planning.
Our eldest, our only daughter Kate and her husband Lloyd, decided that they wanted their wedding celebration to be in Greece in the village of Rovies, north Evia. No ordinary village to us and one that many of the Collective members have visited.
My Greek mother Eleni spent many summers as a child and teenager in the area with family friends who owned an olive estate in the north of this very green part of Evia. When she finally built a house there in the 1960’s I started to spend my childhood summers there and built strong bonds with many people in the village who have remained life-long friends. Kate first visited when she was just 5 months old and was so excited by the experience she barely slept the whole holiday. It was ‘love at first visit’. If it hadn’t been for my dear mother who rescued us every morning from sleep deprivation we would probably not have survived to tell the tale. As the years went by all our children began to look forward to those summer holidays in Rovies with family or with friends. It seemed no surprise that when Lloyd started going it was hard to drag him away.
The ‘performance’ wasn’t a typical Greek wedding and it wasn’t a typical English wedding. Somewhere in between the two cultures melded to produce the most memorable edition of a wedding. And if anyone is thinking “isn’t this Mama Mia being played out in real life?”, the answer is “no”. There was only one father and we didn’t sing along to Abba music.
The setting for the wedding ‘ceremony’ was the ruin of the village’s 13th century Medieval tower. Still standing next to the Greek Orthodox Church after more than 700 years of Frankish, Venetian and Ottoman occupation (and not withstanding earthquake tremors and weathering) it finally came to Greek ownership in the 19th century.
History doesn’t record whether any wedding ceremonies had ever been held within the grounds of the tower since the time it was built. In recent years the idea that an English couple were going to exchange rings in the shadows of the tower surrounded by a spread of English and Greek friends and family never entered anyone’s thinking. When our Rovies florist, Iota, said “when I came to look at the place I could not imagine how you were going to have a wedding ceremony here” – she had a point! I couldn’t imagine a bride walking through the scrub and weeds to the main door of the ruined tower either. But it did happen and after some hard work to clear it and Iota’s creative input, it proved to be the most magical setting, worthy of its long history.
The bridal procession to and from the tower led by a violinist and a clarinetist is an entirely Greek tradition, the ceremony itself much less so. Led by our celebrant Miko, readings at the ceremony came in English and Greek, with the love poem by Greek poet Odysseas Elytis being read by Annoula, the grand-daughter of my mother’s closest friend. Two generations on, with grandmothers absent, the grand-daughters still hold a key to our life-long connection with Rovies and family history. The Greek custom of throwing rice at the couple after the ceremony was abandoned in favour of more gentle real petal confetti. A fusion of English & Greek that typified this performance throughout.
Greek musicians are an essential ingredient to a Greek wedding and as we gathered under the pine trees of our good friend Maria’s taverna, nestled by the calm sea at sunset, Greek music welcomed our wedding goers. What wasn’t expected was the huge response to the music and the urgency with which our English guests clamoured to the dance floor to join the Greek dancing providing their own interpretation of what was required. There were enough Greeks present to help with dance steps but there was no stopping the English desire to express themselves to the live Greek music as they only know best. Zorba himself may have welcomed such creative interpretations.
The Greek musicians were so overwhelmed with the response of the English guests to their playing that they played on longer saying “the English know how to have a good time”! Gratitude flowed both ways well in to the night and an array of unusual Greek dancing was celebrated.
An English wedding would not be a proper wedding without the series of speeches that weave themselves in to the meal from Father, Best Man and Groom but are quite unexpected in Greek weddings. The surprise was the learned Greek words that were read out at the start of the speeches to include our Greek guests, who were quite happy to shout out any corrections as the words unfolded.
A few days later my sister met a local friend in the village who said “Thank you for choosing our village to have the wedding” . The choice was an easy one and we thank everyone there, and those who came, for helping to make it such a truly memorable occasion.
Good performance art “creates a mood and a moment to collectively take an audience to a space where we consider the edges of our expectations and our highs and lows,” There were no lows and all expectations were exceeded.
A very special Greek edition of a English wedding.
When we first set up The Collective we did not set out thinking “let’s become Collectors” or “let’s invest in art” but instead we went with what we really wanted to do: to appreciate art in our homes, share experiences and engage in discussion with artists whose works started to appear in our homes. Some sixteen years and 65 works later are we simply ‘Collectors’ with a sizeable ‘collection’?
What defines an ‘art collector’ and what constitutes a ‘collection’ is both complex and multifold. We have been described as ‘Collectors’ by galleries and curators – and certainly we create opportunities to buy and add to our collection with or without their help. One of our most memorable works has no tangible object associated with it and yet remains one of our most valuable ‘Collective’ memories: a performance piece by artist, Kathryn Fry. So what constitutes a ‘collection’?
We’ve also been described as ‘benefactors’ because through our deliberate engagement with artists (when possible) and consequent purchases, we support emerging artists. Artists support us too. They appreciate our mission and the visibility of their work to new domestic audiences – perhaps friends who don’t often visit galleries and exhibitions but are inspired by seeing our latest acquisitions displayed in our homes. Everyone has an opinion and critical engagement and dialogue around the art works is not only welcomed, but encouraged.
Evan Beard’s, The Four Tribes of Art Collectors, places us, seemingly, in to the ‘aesthete’ group of “serious art collectors” – those who are ‘motivated by visual pleasure‘, less
financially or academically driven and have ‘taste’. Simplistic as that seems we are certainly driven by visual pleasure. What the category lacks is any experiential suggestion around “sharing”: whether that’s the experience of engaging with artists, our method of purchasing, or ‘exchanges’ when we come together with all the works and re-distribute them between the households. It is a cooperative affair and visual experience alone is not the sole motivator or outcome. The model of the Collective naturally transgresses in to the ‘Connoisseur’ (intellectual discovery) as well as the ‘Enterprising Collector’ (redefining the cannon) groups, though neither precisely define us. As a ‘Collective’ it is not about the act of possession or investment but the ability to engage and debate the art and artists as individuals, families or with friends.
Do we want to define ‘collectors’ by such tight categories, and with such obvious connections to wealth and status in the art world? Don’t we enjoy the new and the experimental (the Enterprising Collector) and the intellectual discovery (the Connoisseur)? Of course we do.
Collecting can’t be confined to institutions, or the rich and famous, though all have a large part to play in influencing trends in the art market and the price of works being bought and sold. Christie’s may be able to sell Van Gogh’s Farmer for $81.3 million dollars to a private collector but they remain only one end of the art landscape.
In truth, anyone and everyone can be a “collector”. It’s the methodology you use to create your collection and the motivation behind it that will both define you and create the experiences you wish to have with your art works. It takes time and effort and guidance is definitely a prerequisite, though being wealthy is not – unless you only want to purchase the works of well-known artists past and present. The Collective is based on the principle of shared investment and making the acquisition of art works affordable in our pursuit of visual pleasure, engagement and education. Does that make it a ‘collection’?
Anurag Khanna, whose focus as an art collector is on mid-career contemporary artists both in India and further afield, shares some of the same motivation for ‘collecting’ as we do – and takes a similar approach in his desire for close engagement with artists. The main difference is that the collection is based on his taste and circumstance alone and ownership remains with him and his family. As we circulate purchasing capability between members, art works are purchased for the Collective that are not always to an individual’s or household’s own taste. Instead we get the opportunity to learn about an artist and live with a work building a relationship that can change and develop over time. What may be ‘disliked’ may become ‘liked’. It encourages the dialogue we want to have between ourselves, our friends and the shared experience between the households.
Museum and Gallery collections have come under scrutiny over the years about their lack of female representation. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts 51% of visual artists are women and yet this is not reflected in gallery representation or exhibitions with ,for example, only 5% of galleries in London representing an equal number of male and female artists. Frances Morris, Director of Tate Modern, is clear that women artists have not only been ignored or marginalised over the centuries but even as their voices have multiplied in recent times, institutions have still failed to recognise those voices and seen the interesting, innovative and challenging ways they have been working. Tate Exchange offer an opportunity to promote women artists by throwing the spotlight on some of their careers.
The Collective throws an interesting light on collections outside the gallery circuit. As a diverse group of people, all with an opportunity to research, engage with artists and buy art, 40% of the The Collective is represented by female artists. Our first commissioned performance piece was by a woman and many of our closest engagements have been with women artists – Jemima Brown, Joy Gregory, Erica Eyres, Lisa Wilkens and Frances Richardson to name a few. This was not a deliberate policy, simply a consequence of our own diversity and approach.
Georgia O’Keeffe notoriously refused to let her work be shown in a key exhibition in LA highlighting women artists from 1550-1950 because she saw herself in a category of “one of the best painters” and would not be defined by gender. While many women artists would agree, recent efforts to throw a new spotlight on women artists have been welcomed as well as appointments of women to key positions in the institutions that house these collections.
A collection by definition requires management and direction for it to grow and develop – or even be sold off. The question of whether parts of our own collection should be sold in oder to reinvest in new works and support artists has come up frequently in recent years as the available space across our households is becoming more limited.
At our last exchange the decision was made to begin a new project where experience and engagement would come ahead of material acquisition, even if the end result is a purchase. The journey would be more critical than the final outcome. Can experience be part of collecting and can a collection include experiences?
Humans have surrounded themselves with aesthetic images and objects since time immemorial . Whether frescos, sculptures, trinkets or the works of great artists, art in domestic spaces has helped to define the lives of the occupants and create a portrait of who they are. Reflective of distinct tastes, lifestyles or travels it helps build a picture of an individual, a family, a lifetime. A personal reflection embedded in defined cultural and historical moments.
Contemporary art has found its way in to homes all over the globe, but often for very different reasons and with very different outcomes. Anyone following this blog will know that the model of The Collective is based on the principle of cooperative buying and sharing of contemporary art between six households which enables individual
appreciation in our homes and invites shared experiences in the process of acquiring and growing The Collective. More than just a collection of art works it has been an integral part of our homes, our memories and our family lives for the best part of two decades.
The individual or group collectors who acquire the works of established artists is a more usual way that contemporary art finds its ways in to homes. The experience here is one of personal enjoyment and status with possible loans to public galleries. It’s a largely private experience for a particular household or office space.
Beyond the collectors, curators and art directors have been setting the scene for alternative ways to introduce contemporary art in to domestic spaces. Manchester International Festival’s (MIF) “Festival in My House” was first started in 2016. Inspired by other festival movements to introduce art in to homes across a host city, John McGrath, MIF’s CEO and artistic director explains that Festival in My House is not about putting artists in to people’s homes or using the home as an alternative gallery venue, but instead it is about supporting householders to be curators and artistic programmers. With support from MIF’s producers it helps to develop pockets of underground activists for when the big festival comes. It helps people to make connections, provides training, realises their own creative ambitions as they curate a mini festival in their home. Artists and participants clearly value the experiential side of this movement as much as the works themselves with a vast array of art forms being curated from visual art, music, dancing to story -telling and poetry-reading interacting with local residents to create vibrant environments in selected homes.
Artists, participants and visitors alike find the intimacy of the home more personal and relaxing, a more informal way of engaging with different types of art. As John McGrath explains
“In concert halls and theatre venues the spaces allow the artist to do what they want to do – they are neutral spaces – but in homes their work is more of a conversation with the place itself”
Visitors view the experience on a dual level: the personal visualisation of the occupants
life from within their own home, and the art being produced within it. As domestic living spaces the experience for both artist and visitor is more dynamic and more intimate. For the artist there may be new challenges with sound or a feeling of greater vulnerability due to the close proximity of the audience or the effect of the personal surroundings on their work. For visitors they feel much more part of the experience.
“Art in the Home|Sheffield” a continuation of the 2014 and 2015 editions held in Manchester and York is a quite different concept from MIF adding a new perspective to how contemporary art is being introduced in to domestic spaces. In this project four commercial galleries from across the UK had temporary exhibitions hosted in four selected homes in the city. In the 2017 Sheffield edition one of the participating galleries was Workplace Gallery which hosted The Collective’s own exhibition in Gateshead last May. Art in the Home|Sheffield was part of Making Ways – a new programme supported by Sheffield Culture Consortium through Arts Council England “to showcase, celebrate and develop the exceptional contemporary visual art produced in the city.” By invitation only visitors were guided round the four houses (all in close proximity) where they could see the art works and talk to the gallerists involved. Seemingly more exclusive Art in the Home was not a public event but its popularity continues to support more editions with the draw of the domestic space still key to its success.
But what of domestic everyday objects already in homes? In 1999 an unusual collaborative project began between the Tate Gallery and the DIY store Homebase. Created and organised by artist and curator Colin Pointer the project’s focus was more on our relationship with the domestic objects and how they could be used to form the basis of sellable art works. In the project nine British sculptors were invited to create “an object, designed for mass production, for display or use in the home”. To achieve this artists began by visiting households to see how daily objects were used and displayed from garden tools to shower curtains. The completed objects were then available to buy in both Homebase and the Tate Gallery shop. The Tate Gallery hosted an exhibition At Home with Art which showcased the objects themselves, drawings, prototypes and other materials which toured the UK for two years. The idea that you could buy the objects at an affordable price and not just display, but use the them, on a day-to-day basis added a new dimension to the concept art in the home.
For the Collective we bring art in to our homes that is not always of our own personal choosing, and regularly exchange the works between the participating households. We can see works go, but they can equally appear again. Our interaction is based on living
with art all the year through and seeing a changing homescape as we exchange and acquire new works. The experience is dynamic and engaging within an environment that is comfortable and familiar but often challenges our own preconceptions of what art we can live with in our domestic spaces. Do we like a particular work? What reaction has it produced and how much does it impact our family members or visitors? In centuries to come what would it say about our lives?
We can agree that “art in the home” is not a new concept. But the way it is introduced in to our domestic spaces and our consequent interactions with it, is constantly evolving giving it a new meaning on each occasion.
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
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
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.
“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 .
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.
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”
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”
Having 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.
Local polling station on election day
local Labour Party electioneering rooms
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?
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.