Tag Archives: society

The Collector’s collection

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No substitute for your love by Tracey Emin. Owned by The Collective

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

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Handbag by Joy Gregory 2003. Owned by The Collective

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.

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On Board by Mel Brimfield 2010. owned by The Collective

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.

 

 

 

 

Story power

 

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Fresco from Akrotiri, Thera 16th century BC. Wikimedia Commons

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

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The story of Herakles with Cerberus. 6th century BC vase painting. Wikimedia Commons

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 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 capability and association with potential resolutions is recognised.

So how are stories communicated in contemporary art? It was not until the 20th century photo 2 (4)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.

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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.

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Bobby Dowler, Odd painting 1. Owned by the Collective

‘Tis the season to be …at an art Biennial

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Couple on Venetian bridge by Tim Eastop

Venice has the ability to conjure up a wide variety of imaginings from romantic trysts to historic and cultural forays. With its numerous canals winding their way between the small islands of the old town and joined by little bridges under which the famous gondoliers guide their mesmerised visitors, its magic reputation over-rides anything else.

It’s historic stage also plays host to the largest and most well-known theatre for contemporary art – the Venice Biennale.  The juxtaposition of old and new is a fascinating one and seems to point more to the history of internationalism that Venice built through its history.  As a centre for trade across the Mediterranean reaching toward the eastern markets of Constantinople, the Venetian Republic attracted

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18th century view of Venice by Canaletto.  Wikipedia commons

traders and dazzled visitors for many centuries.  It still does.

Held every odd year and begun in 1895 to celebrate the silver anniversary of the accession to the throne of King Umberto I of Italy and his consort, Margherita of Savoy the Venice Biennale now attracts around half a million visitors for the six months it is open . Showcasing the latest trends in art, architecture, film and dance and the best representative creators for their country – it’s an honour to be asked to participate knowing that curators from far and wide, millionaire collectors, celebrities, dealers and gallery owners are pulled by its legacy magnetism.  This year the Venice Biennale boasts 86 country pavilions with 28 in the Giardini and the rest in the Arsenale, the city’s former shipyard, with the curated main show, titled “Arte Viva Arte”, showing works by 120 artists from 51 countries.  The scope seems unimaginable to most.

Whether it is the scale or the masses who patiently wait in queues to attend the shows and pavilions, it puts a completely different perspective on the art world from our own domestic adventures with sharing contemporary art in our homes. For The Collective it is like looking through a telescope at a vast universe expanding in front of us and yet with definite links and opportunities back to our earth.

It is from the biennials that trends may be set, artists emerge, names are established, think tanks initiate discussion and large sums are circulated in the future global art market determining market prices.  Names of artists whose works we have in the Collective have featured in previous biennials (Chris Ofili and Tracy Emin). Despite the fact biennials are not about the exchange of money for works and the Venice Biennale banned the actual selling of art works in 1968 – the event remains an integral part of the global art market and its increasing commercialisation.

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Untitled by Chris Ofili. Owned by The Collective

The Biennial Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 2009 as a platform for art biennials around the world, lists a huge global network  – with the crowning event being the Venice Biennale.  Documenta in Germany, not a biennial, but an equally important event is held every five years and runs concurrently with Venice this year.  As the two most eminent art events in the world there is definite competition and curators often come under scrutiny from the art critics for the artists they select.  Other biennials in major cities (eg Sao Paolo, Istanbul or Moscow) compete for well-known artists and established curators understanding their value in terms of their own national art cultures and attracting tourism.

The art world has never been bigger or more international and it’s a good season to get a taste of it if you happen to be travelling to Venice or Kassel.  But at the end of the day it’s also about what works we chose to live with on a daily basis and the journey we go on with the artists to acquire them, and later share amongst the households of the Collective.

Things to remember

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“Witness” by Tom Dale. Owned by the Collective.

“So you’ve got a new one up” says my son’s friend as he passes from the kitchen and through the dining room.   “it’s got wheels.. what is it?”  A shrug of shoulders as they disappear out pondering what it brings to mind.  Tom Dale’s work “witness” is an eye-catching work for any audience but placed on a domestic wall it tends to attract more comments than usual. Witness to a mix of people both transitory and permanent as they pass through our house.

Growing up with changing art in our home is something our children have got used to – and their friends too.   Sometimes they just nod in acknowledgement, other times they may ask a question about it, but usually they take a quick moment to have a brief look with little more than an “interesting”! But they don’t forget .  However they remember equally, if not more clearly, what I served up for tea – asking my children years later if they can come back and have that meal again!  Tea and art, art and tea – things to remember as you grow up.

One game that was never part of our children’s repertoire of favourite pastimes or memories was “hangman” – the simple pen and paper game where you guess the letters of your opponents “word” suffering a ‘hanging on paper’ if you don’t make it in the number of guesses given!  I remember as a child the feeling of victory when I hanged my opponent who failed to guess my given word, drawing in that final limb to the picture to signify their demise. Or the feeling of defeat when they escaped the gallows and the endless paper we got through to pass the time on a slow afternoon!   Why on earth did we find it so pleasurable?  Perhaps our children had more sense: “death on paper” the punishment for failure to get the word or the spelling right? Is that the best way to encourage our children to become successful wordsmiths?

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Hangman by Mark Wallinger. Owned by the Collective.

Mark Wallinger’s work “Hangman” illustrates the steps needed for the game to be completed.  A victim hung for failing to guess the very name of the game. Taken from Wikipedia’s text description of a strategy that uses the most frequently occurring letters in the english language, Wallinger illustrates how the victim is not spared his punishment, with his simple drawing.

London-based with an international reputation and winner of the 2007 Turner prize for his exhibition StateBritain, Mark Wallinger is perhaps best known as the first artist to be commissioned to do a work for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square – Ecce Homo

Wallinger is not a stranger to social commentary or political statement. But it’s the combination of the sometimes playful exterior of his works combined with undertones that invite much deeper speculation that make them so memorable.   First seen by members of The Collective on the walls of the Drawing Room Biennial exhibition and auction we were drawn to the simplicity of Hangman and the fact its creator was Mark Wallinger – so we put in our bid.   Safely acquired and looking at it everyday on our wall at home I found myself compelled to find out more about the origins of the game.  Why hangman?

Apparently created in Victorian times when hanging was not only commonplace but a form of established “entertainment” that could draw huge crowds (the more famous, the bigger the crowd) hangman was first referenced in 1894 in Alice Bertha Gomme’Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland .  Entertainment that could clearly be replicated on paper in a simple spelling game format for children!

The strange thing is, is that I had never considered the game in any other way than an easy way to pass the time with pen and paper.  If having seen the work in a gallery we’d left it there, I’m not sure it would have engendered the same reaction. But living with it has become a different experience altogether.   As Hangman sits on our wall it reinforces Wallinger’s suggestion that an art work can have the effect of seeing

how far we can get in to the consciousness of someone or something other…”

It was certainly doing just that.

In his video work “Sleeper” Wallinger appears dressed as a bear in the Neue Nationalgalerie Berlin, alone and late at night running, walking and surprising passers-by chancing upon this unusual spectacle. You can’t help but smile at the vision of this light-hearted “prank” in an empty museum at night! But its actual meaning is intertwined with disguise, espionage, surveillance, the history of Berlin and its physical division before the wall came down.  Wallinger suggests the art work was triggered by a childhood memory of “The Singing Ringing Tree” a story about a prince who was transformed in to a bear which originated in East Germany, but was unknown in West Germany. A symbol of a divided country. So perhaps not the first time haunting childhood themes have played a part in his art.

So for me at least Wallinger’s Hangman has become more of a statement, a piece of history, a symbol of an act that impacted our culture here in Britain until August 1964 when the last hanging took place.  But dressed up as it is as a simple word game for children that I played a long time ago.

Things to remember that are often unexpected.