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?
Let’s see what happens.