Tag Archives: Art collecting

Tales of unexpected moments

It all seemed to happen in the last week of May .  A visit to the opening of an exhibition in a small gallery in Hoxton, east London and a studio visit to an artist based in south London.  Both quite different, both centred around sculpture, and both memorable for different reasons.
Bx5gLxxCEAA6x6dIf you’ve ever wondered why gallery assistants accost you, with degrees of politeness or hostility, when they spot you carrying bags whilst visiting an exhibition – the first unexpected moment will almost certainly answer that question for you once and for all.     The gallery space in east London that we visited occupied a small basement floor beautifully laid out for the current exhibition showing a sculptor who worked in mixed mediums.  It was a first solo show and the combination of unusual found objects separated from their original purpose or identity and reconfigured with the artists own “additions” – often made from a different medium – was both intriguing and stimulating.  Each sculpture told a mixed story of old and new recreated to present a quite different concept from the objects themselves.

But then it happened.  Amidst the murmur of conversations and people, small movements and manoeuvring as the space filled up with visitors, the air was punctured with a heavy sound of smashing glass on the concrete floor.  The gallery was silenced in an instant.  We didn’t need to turn to guess what had happened – it was written all over the faces of those looking in the direction of the noise – “thank god it wasn’t me!”.    An accidental swing of a shoulder bag had unseated one of the sculptures and brought about its noisy end. A corporeal unwinding. As I was leaving the exhibition I heard a visitor talking to the artist “You must have been so angry?” , “no, I wasn’t angry , not everything works out”.  An unanticipated and forgiving moment.

A studio visit is always unexpected in terms of what you’ll find- and is probably one of the

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ASC studios

most rewarding aspects of what we do as a Collective.  A rare opportunity, not just to view art but to get beneath it to the creator and learn more about how, why and what motivates them to make the art they do. – and in the space they do it!  So it was we went to see artist Tom Dale at his studio in south London.  All six households turned up for the occasion.

Tom calls himself a Sculptor, although video and digital photography feature in his collection in addition to the objects. There doesn’t seem to be a restriction in what materials he favours and uses, or what size they are as long as it “creates a reaction”.”What I’m

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Tom Dale in his studio in south London

interested in is creating an immediate and visceral response so that you ask yourself – why do I feel like this?”   Tom likes to steer away from over intellectual explanations and prefers that you ask questions – both of him and his works – mainly because his art “begins with an idea I have to solve – a question – and through the making of the work I try to answer that question”.  The result may be that it encourages you to ask more questions

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Ball with wheel by Tom Dale

as the viewer.  Tom’s openness to his approach is refreshing and his down to earth way of speaking engaged us all as he went through his works past and present (and not all of them in his studio).  In 2005 he wanted to see if he could improve on the idea of something that was essentially  a “perfect “sphere and added a castor wheel from a chair.  In so doing he made the ball useless – trapped in immobility.  “it might seem banal” says Tom”but there was a specific thought behind it”.

With castor wheels in mind there was one work on the wall of his studio that had already grabbed our “Collective” attention.  Called “witness” it consisted of a small off-white blanket with four castor wheels attached.

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“Witness” by Tom Dale

“Only in the moment of being hung does it look like a figure – on the floor it would collapse without

substance” says Tom. Just an ordinary blanket – with wheels. Can that ever be ordinary, I wondered? We all had different interpretations from quite dark thoughts of faceless and threatening figures to totally playful images of animated  sheep !  “I like the idea of objects having a life of their own” – and this one certainly did.

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Work by Tom Dale

Copper pipes and taps giving testimony to a networked and connected world (that could nevertheless be switched off) , grey painted Russian dolls representing interconnected world currencies (that could disappear inside each other) and redundant coin-covered motorbike petrol tank covers provided a remarkable afternoon of unforeseen highlights .

“I make lots of work – but not loads.  Ideas take time and often have a slow release”.   Just as living with art allows us a slow release of acknowledgement and unexpected moments of reflection and pleasure over time.

Thanks Tom Dale.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the conversation turns to “what next?”

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Joy Gregory, Handbag,2003. Owned by the Collective

When we meet as a Collective group, one thing we are never short of is conversation. Is it critical engagement? No, not always. We come with different perspectives and from different professional backgrounds so there is always plenty to bring to the table, bound as we are by our common goal of buying and sharing contemporary art for domestic spaces.

But after 14 years of existence as a Collective group and a growing reputation, there was one conversation that we hadn’t yet had, and was starting to surface amongst us: where do we go next?

Having acquired over 60 works during the course of our fourteen years of existence– there was a growing question of capacity. Walls and spaces are finite in our homes, however much we love the art,and our homes could well get smaller as children move away, not bigger. Storing some of the art would mean not seeing certain works and seem to defeat the purpose of acquiring new pieces if we were hiding some of the old. Added to this artists love the idea that their work will always be on display in one of the houses. And if we were to start selling, which ones?

So on a cold March Saturday we met in town in a small library room for the sole purpose of

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Peter Pommerer, Giraffe with blue eyes, 2000. Owned by the Collective

discussing “what next”? Perhaps there wouldn’t even be a “next”, but a “winding up”? Was that a possibility? Not all collective groups that have started have continued as long as we have, and sometimes the commitment combined with life’s demands require flexibility and a different approach.   We have certainly never proposed that our approach should be a lifetime set up.

As this was potentially a momentous step in the history of our founding Collective, I decided to record the session with audio, whilst Theresa kept notes. This blog is based on those two sources.

Going round the table of the 12 members present it became clear very quickly that we were all agreed on a single point: far from wishing to wind up we wanted to continue as a Collective group – but we were in need of new ideas and a degree of reinvigoration – possibly a redirection.

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Mel Brimfield, On board, 2010. Owned by the Collective

There were certainly pressing practical considerations: a large number of works, limited capacity in our homes and the reality of assembling twice a year with all the works, some of which required van hire because of their size.   Getting to private views, art fairs, auctions and studio visits appeared to be getting increasingly hard to achieve with the same few members always attending, and the buying panel system was starting to be less workable. But this should not be interpreted as “nothing happening”. On the contrary in the last year we watched a live art commission unfold in our homes, attended the Drawing Room’s excellent biennial auction, gave a talk about the Collective at Sluice Art Fair, visited Art Rotterdam and acquired three new works. Hardly a sign of disengagement!

Every member contributed their thoughts and suggestions and by the end common themes and ideas started to emerge:

  • we needed a professional valuation of the entire collection to assess what the possibilities were of selling works or loaning to other groups.
  • Reinvigoration – focussing more on the experiential rather than physical works e.g more live art?
  • Engage a curator for a fixed time to take us in a direction that we had not yet considered?
  • Support an artist residency or internship for an emerging artist or student?
  • An educational approach with more international visits and following up on international connections we are now creating?
  • Organise an exhibition of our entire collection – combined with a launch of an artist residency/internship/bursary/curator?

One of the more contentious issues was the idea of selling some of the works, some

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Untitled, Chris Ofili, 2000. Owned by the Collective

members recognising the importance of the history of the group and where it began, rather than any monetary consideration.   But not selling and generating some cash may limit the potential of any new initiative or direction we decided to go in. That conversation needed more time.

So where did the discussion end? We hurried to consult our calendars realising the need to meet again to continue talking.

As we got up to go we all recognised an important step: The conversation had begun and some kind of change was now inevitable for a founding Collective we all wanted to keep.

What’s next ? Watch this space!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Invisibility test

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“Looking and seeing” Frits Ahlefeldt (1966)  Denmark.

 

A couple of months ago I wrote a blog about how the constant exchange of art works through The Collective meant that what’s on our walls would never become “invisible”. Instead, our domestic spaces assumed a more dynamic nature that changed in aspect and feel every time we had an “exchange”.This made us pay more attention to their detail, even when you have had them before, as it was more akin to a new acquisition “with a certain familiarity” every time they returned to your home.

The idea of an art work, or any item on a wall, becoming “invisible” because it remains in the same place for many years was put to the test recently, albeit inadvertently, in our own house.

We have a large screen print by a well-known artist that is very distinctive. I am particularly fond of this piece though it is not part of the Collective’s Collection. Apart from being a wonderful work, it has a history and memories associated with it that hold great significance for me personally.  Every morning as I eat breakfast in my kitchen I can see the work on the wall, through the door in the next room.  And every morning it reassures me and inspires me, as I look at it and see it there in its particular location. I never tire of looking at it.  It’s been there for years and I watch it change with the different seasons as mornings get lighter and then darker ,and through all the associated light changes that come with our weather and hit our dining room in the morning.

The work needed reframing which we had discussed on numerous occasions and as Tim knew the appropriate framers I was going to leave it to him.  Time passed and still we hadn’t managed to do it and now it also needed some conservation work.

This year, on my birthday, Tim presented me with what appeared to be a large art work, all wrapped up as it was.  I was excited! When I opened it, it was the very same screen print that was on our wall in its usual place.   How had that happened?  Only then did I really notice.

Unobserved by me, Tim had taken down the original, had a good photocopy done, reinserted it in to the old frame and taken the original screen print to the framers where it was now presented in a brand new perfectly finished frame, fully restored and even more of a spectacle than before.  I was stunned – how could I have not noticed?

Only once had I speculated that the colour looked different but thought it was nothing more than a trick of the eye with the particular light of that morning.  I had ceased to observe it properly, but just viewed it from a distance in its rightful place.  It’s detail had in fact become invisible and what mattered more was that it was just “there”.

There is an established science around “familiarity“and psychologists have discovered that there is a “happiness directly correlated to how many thing we are familiar with”.  But why are familiar things more “likeable” ? Are our brains lazy or is it that “familiar things make us feel more comfortable“?  The answer is “yes”,they do – they reassure us, provide landmarks amidst all life’s uncertainties and anchors in our domestic  spaces.  In this case the anchor was the art work that never moved from its place. The trouble is that in the process of making us feel more comfortable our brains stop to really notice and a layer of “invisibility” is created.  We only really sit up and see when something changes significantly.  This is of course why the the constant change of the Collective art works provide so much stimulation and interest because we, and all visitors to our houses, have grown to expect change and notice more readily when they see the new or returned art works.

I’m still astonished I failed to notice the substitute, but it struck me how true the assertion was that familiarity creates invisibility. Perhaps the difference between looking and seeing.

When did you last ‘see’ a familiar object that you look at every day ?  You might learn something new!

 

 

 

 

 

Home Suite Home : A performance

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A still from Home Suite by katharine Fry. A site specific performance in seven parts. Part 1: “silliness”. Commissioned by the Collective.

It wasn’t how I imagined.  But what did I have to imagine if I knew so little about it?  Can you visualise the unknown?

In 2007 the Collective‘s purchasing panel embarked on a journey to commission a performance art piece.  On the panel was myself, and Collective members Jo and Sam Eastop – three of the seven households represented.  What it actually meant and how it would work across all the households was a complete unknown.  All we knew for certain was that it would be a commission – the first the Collective had undertaken. But what were we commissioning? Where could we start?

An important introduction to performance art for the Collective was the visit we made to Laura Godfrey-Isaac’s “Home” exhibition – an experimental gallery in a home space where in 1999 twenty one different artists were represented in her own family home. From the very outset the Collective was interested in new, experimental art that challenged – we didn’t particularly exclude any genre of contemporary art practice just because we were in a domestic space.

But domestic spaces have obvious restrictions (not least we “live” there) however well meant the intention to create opportunities for living with contemporary art in whatever form it should take.  Laura’s Home exhibition was challenging, especially where Franko B used blood as part of his work. It felt quite disturbing with few boundaries left between public and intimate which provoked some intense debate amongst us.

But it didn’t deter us in our quest for performance art. First we began with a meeting with live art expert and curator Mark Waugh whose brief was to help us understand more about performance art, what we might consider and how we could go about commissioning the best artist for us.  In fact what he succeeded in doing was so much more.  He didn’t just inform us on some practicalities, but instilled an enthusiasm that propelled us forward full of anticipation on a quite unexpected journey. There would be no stopping us.

We advertised, short listed, using a comprehensive matrix of criteria and interviewed three finalists.  Of these three Katharine Fry emerged as our chosen artist. She stood out, both in what she had achieved already but how she talked through her ideas and wanted to involve all the Collective households.  Katharine had big ideas and to realise the scale she needed more funds than we had available.  The outcome might have been very different if she hadn’t achieved her goal, but Katharine did find support through Arts Council England which welcomed the unusual concept of performance art within the domestic setting of the Collective households.  So with increased funds she set about preparing and researching her ideas.

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A still from Home Suite, a site specific performance in seven parts by katharine Fry. Part 6: “Seething”. Commissioned by the Collective.

The whole process from first meeting to final production took over a year and what resulted was a series of seven performances, one in each household, over seven weeks.  Katharine Fry described the work:

“Home Suite explores the nature of domestic habit and routine. That which usually takes place behind closed doors is revealed as a chorus of seven identical females negotiating seven houses over the course of a week, charting the evolution of a marriage and the fate of romance.”

Each house was allocated a day and a named theme to chart the evolution and eventual fate of this relationship.

Monday – Silliness; Tuesday – Seduction; Wednesday – seriousness; Thursday- Solitutde; Friday – Sorrow; Saturday – Seething; Sunday – Senselessness.

It was stunning.  We invited friends and interested public viewers to come and watch as it played itself out, filling our houses in each case with dance, routines, interactions with our domestic wares and spaces, sounds, lights, moments of perplexity and captured moments of inspiration as we all watched it unfold.   In each house, the performance was significantly different in tone and feel – though the same seven dancers performed each time, with different costumes and choreographed to the surroundings with real skill. The story began, rose and ended in a gradual progression, each part quite unique and quite brilliant.

As one member said ”

my favourite work, the best thing we ever purchased…”

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A still from Home Suite, a site specific commission in seven parts by Katharine Fry. Part 7: “Senselessness”. Commissioned by the Collective

And yet, none of us have anything physical in our houses to show that it ever happened.  It can’t be repeated.  A video shows edited highlights from the seven performances though not all the soundtrack is original.  It can’t be re-sold.  Yet we talk about it more than anything else we’ve done as a Collective, permanently etched in our minds as a series of experiences.

The experiences didn’t confine themselves to the performances, but the creative process, the “making” and what was involved for each household.   Collecting experiences is certainly part of this story.

Working with the artist Katharine Fry, was fascinating but the creative process was often intrusive to our everyday family life. Home is a very intimate place where we reveal ourselves on many different levels, often not seen anywhere else.  There were many visits to our homes, where there was a fine line between research by the artist and a feeling of exposure within our own “castle”.  A gender divide emerged with the cataloguing of our personal belongings, the interruption to our children’s schedules and meals.  As the rehearsals began I might come home to a full house of dancers, technician, helpers, videographer and all our kitchen utensils lined up on the table, furniture rearranged.  We felt like visitors in our own home, the mere backdrop to a forthcoming event. The children looked confused, not sure where to seek shelter and desperately looking for pets that had run off in terror at the commotion.  “why are these people in our house”?  “It’s OK, it’s just performance art!” .  At times, I wasn’t sure what we had embarked on, or how it would end.

For the performance themes attached to each house, it was the women who questioned the selection and if there should be any inference drawn – why was mine “silliness”? why was another “seriousness”? or “seething”?  What were we to

A still from Katharine Fry's Home Suite.
A still from Katharine Fry’s Home Suite, a site specific performance in seven parts. Part 1: “Silliness”. Commissioned by the Collective

deduce from this reflective story of a relationship that was breaking down? Or the outdated representation of the “archetypal” housewife? Weren’t we all working women?

Nothing, or something?  It was a performance, it was art, it was a story, and we were free to read something deeper or just take it for what it was.  The only difference was that it was in our own homes. Was our intimacy exposed?

It left a deep impression on all of us.  It altered domestic boundaries, it challenged and made us question objects around us and concepts we perceived.  The final productions were fantastic.  Isn’t that everything we’d hoped for?

This month, seven years on, we embark on our second performance piece.  I may know more about performance art, but much less about what’s coming…

Some questions answered: talking about the Collective

Janey by Erica Eyres 2010. Owned by the Collective
Janey by Erica Eyres 2010.
Owned by the Collective

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, “

The Drawing Room Biennial 2015.
The Drawing Room Biennial 2015. An opportunity for an “exceptional buy”

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. houseThe 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

No substitute for your love by Tracy Emin. Owned by the Collective
No substitute for your love by Tracy Emin. Owned by the Collective

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.

TRY ART! : The Rotterdam Connection

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Chris Ofili “untitled” 1999. Line etching. Owned by the Collective

At the end of June The Guardian newspaper reported Christie’s New York Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen as saying “There were 10 world records with only 34 works” “probably the most exciting sale I’ve taken in my career” . With Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger fetching $179.4 million and Alberto Giacometti’s L’Homme au doigt $141.3m, they were prices one can’t even comprehend, let alone visualise.

Hot on the tail of this record breaking event was the sale in Christie’s London auction house of living artist Chris Ofili’s Black Maddona for $4.6 million. This was significant – not just because he’s a living 21st century contemporary artist; not because the painting, when it reached the Brooklyn Museum in New York caused such a ruckus with the (then) Mayor of New York City, Rudolph Giuliani – calling it “sick” (in the worst possible sense) and offensive to the Catholic church.  But because Chris Ofili is familiar to our Collective.  His brightly coloured untitled etching was one of the first purchases by the Collective, one of a set of 20 mixed prints we acquired from the Cubitt Gallery, London,to get us started back in 2000.

It was a stark reminder of the divided and tiered art world – a million miles apart from one another and a million dollars apart. Philip Hoffman, CEO of the Fine Art Fund Group who specialises in art investment calls it “the most desirable market. It’s the most liquid market. It’s sexy, it’s easy to understand…”  No wonder that the principles of The Collective are sometimes met with scepticism and incredulity when the answer to “so you don’t collect art for investment?” is a simple “no“.  And “no” it remains, preferring to keep to those principles of buying art collectively, sharing and living with contemporary art and supporting emerging artists – just for the love of it.

The Collective is not alone as a group, but has expanded and helped other groups set up in the UK (Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge and in London). Just over a year ago another group started up in Rotterdam, led by Gallery Assistant, Jetty Keuning. Jetty met Collective members Tim Eastop and Bob Lee whilst on a trip to Art Rotterdam, in 2012 where they were giving a talk about the Collective to a small group of postgraduates.  It took Jetty another two years to get the group up and running, but having been suitably enthused by the idea, she didn’t let go. “you have to be a bit of an idealist – to believe in what you are doing“, says Jetty, but the reality is worth it.

I caught up with Jetty a couple of weeks ago to find out how the group was progressing one year on and learn about the hurdles she had gone through as well as the different cultural nuances within the Dutch art scene. I wasn’t disappointed!

The Rotterdam Collective, named TRY ART! operates under the umbrella of the RAM Foundation, an independent not-for-profit arts organisation that hosts a wide range of activities including exhibitions. TRY ART! doesn’t exist independently like our own Founding Collective but the RAM Foundation articulates clearly how TRY ART! is associated with the  model of The Collective and its principles. It also provides support and endorsement for the importance of collecting groups within the context of the Netherlands and Dutch culture.  This was an important bridge to cross and Jetty felt it was a more solid start for them.

One of the biggest hurdles for Jetty in setting up the Rotterdam group was The Collective’s constitution. “Anglo Saxon law is quite different to European Law” Jetty told me and she needed to find a willing lawyer to redraft it in a way that held credence to potential group members – and for nothing!  Free lawyer? An oxymoron surely? But find one she did, thanks to the policy of one Dutch law firm.  Jetty contacted the Rotterdam office of Loyens & Loeff an independent international law firm who believe that it is good for their lawyers who work daily with big companies to keep their feet firmly on the ground by working for local cultural not-for-profit organisations – for free!  It didn’t solve the need to get it translated in to Dutch, but it was an excellent start.  It fell to Jetty to complete the translation of their revised constitution and one of the reasons it took so long for the group to get started.   The differences were small but significant.  “Association” for example (used in our constitution) is not a word that is used in Dutch law and the word “Collective” has different connotations, so they had to be registered as a “society” to be established and recognised.

what left us low res
Robin Kolleman, What Left Us (2015), wool, cotton, porcelain, 46 x 22 x 4 cm.  Owned by TRY ART! http://www.robinkolleman.nl/index.htm

Jetty meanwhile set about finding members for her group. She started talking to friends and family about the idea, slowly spreading an interest, and trying to gauge reactions.  It was in fact her reading group who showed the most interest.  Used as they were to gathering in each others’ homes and sharing a common interest they took to the concept easily.  They had a lot of “what-ifs” as Jetty put it, which fortunately were ironed out when the constitution was ready and available in their own language.  There are now five members (including Jetty) – two work for the City Council, one is a Financial Consultant and the the fifth works in the flower industry.  “they balance each other” says Jetty, when I asked about the professional diversity and “bring different skills to the group“.  One year on, they are firmly established and have three works to share.

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Karin Arink, Glitter Cut-Out (2015), glitter foil, 27 x 43 cm, edition: 6. Owned by TRY ART! http://www.dekko.nl

Not enough to go round?” – that was sorted out naturally as Jetty has her own private art collection so was happy to forgo having one of the first purchases, and another member was in the middle of a house refurbishment.   Like us, they have a purchasing panel – but the purchase has to be agreed by all the group before payment is exchanged.  A big contrast to our own group where the purchasing panel have full control of what they buy – provided they stay within budget. Jetty admitted that for her group “reading a book you didn’t like was one thing, but buying an art work one of the members didn’t like was a step too far!“.    Another contrast lay in the fact TRY ART!  was made up of five “individuals”, not “households”, like our Collective.  The significance of this only came about when Jetty mentioned one of the members partners had issue with one of the art works purchased and her membership of the group.  Not a concept we had ever had to confront as all our decisions are made as a household “unit”, not as individuals.  Whatever comes back to our house after an exchange – is jointly agreed.  Jetty admitted that there can be many psychological and sociological processes going on within any group which may have an impact on how they collaborate, but equally that can be resolved easily.

The excitement amongst members, when the group started in Rotterdam was noticeable “they wanted to go out and buy art immediately” says Jetty “they were very impatient”!  So her first task was to slow them down, encourage them to see lots of art and develop a taste for what they liked most.  In addition to that it was very important “who” they went to see as Dutch artists do not want to be part of collections where the artists have no reputation or standing. To begin a collection with an unrecognised artist could be a liability for the group within the Dutch art scene –   “Emerging artists are ambitious and want to be proud of the collection they belong to”, but clearly not so unknown as to be excluded!

Jetty has acted as mentor, teacher, chairperson, and organiser for her group but is insistent that members now take the initiative and treat her as an “equal member”, not the leader.  With the reputation of the RAM Foundation behind her, she has given talks about this new way to collect, share and live with art, and as more people come forward to express a wish to form groups in Rotterdam she is keen that each new group formed has an art’s mentor for at least the first year, “they love the art and they love the stories from members about the processes and the artists they visit in their studios, but they may lack the knowledge”

As Jetty mentioned to me at the beginning of our discussion “you need to believe in what you are doing”  The experience is worth a million dollars more than the price of a Picasso kept hidden in a high security vault.

The Art of buying collectively

Studio Voltaire Gallery
Studio Voltaire Gallery

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 works

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”.

In between looking at the art – including the wonderful comb works of Blue Curry

Blue Curry works

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.

A final quick diversion to the pub with Tim and Bob to go over the evening’s event and discussions before heading home to put a close to the day.

http://www.the-collective.info/

In the beginning

There was no epiphany of any kind back in 2002. Tied up with family life and grappling with a notion of a rewarding work-life balance we realised one thing we all enjoyed was looking at, and talking about, contemporary art .

Translating that in to something more full-time at home on any significant level was clearly the challenge. We had limited financial resources to buy art as individual families even if the desire and interest was there. With two arts professionals amongst us, we were not short of encouragement and ideas.

“We” were seven households back in 2002: four were related (siblings) and three long time friends spread over London from north to south. But we were all in the same City which was a good start. It was almost a “family affair” even if it didn’t have to be for the idea to work – but it certainly made meet-ups easier in the early days and with children in tow.

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.

A number of group conversations started to set our thoughts down on the process and build a framework for how we wanted the group to participate in art more widely and how it should be run more specifically.

It was to be a co-operative approach where each household would commit to a small sum per month and once the funds began building up we would start to purchase new contemporary art works. We shared and agreed a certain purpose around our group. The intention was not to make money or see it as an investment opportunity – but rather to enjoy art for arts sake in domestic settings from new, emerging and cutting edge artists – however challenging and unlikely it was that we may have purchased those art works on our own. We wanted to live with the art and appreciate new visual stimuli around us every day at home.

We had plenty to think about: a name, a bank account, treasurer, how to buy and share and a written model – or constitution.

So we arrived at “The Collective”. Thirteen years later we have a collection of over 50 works that we continue to grow and continue to share amongst ourselves. We are seen as viable collectors by contemporary gallerists, art fairs and Arts Council England and we are not alone as a group. The Founding group has enabled the launch of other groups across the country.

In the beginning we were just seven households who enjoyed contemporary art with lots of stories ahead of us.  It is those stories that I will be sharing regularly in this blog.