Tuesday, November 03, 2009

On Collecting and Patronage : Open Thread

So much of the debate about whether times of recession are good or bad for art has danced around discussing, rather than risk being thought to bite, the hands that feed the industry. Whereas all kinds of artists and even a critic or two will celebrate the weeding out of the galleries they say they won't miss or speculate on how the business model might need to change, and everyone is willing it seems to reflect on the excesses of the recent boom (even those most directly connected to its historic expansion...
“It’s a more considered market,” said Tobias Meyer, who is in charge of Sotheby’s contemporary art department worldwide. “People now think carefully about what they buy and how much they are willing spend.”)
...and across the board we hear about "getting back to basics" in the industry, I have read very little about the role collectors have played in the art bubble or what fundamentals they lost sight of in the bedlam. Oh, there has been plenty of pontificating about the speculators and flippers who came out of the woodwork to descend upon the auction houses and art fairs, but I'm talking about "art collectors." Do they too have some basics to reconsider now?

I got into an awkward position once at an art fair in Europe, where two world famous collectors were discussing buying art at fairs on a panel discussion. I asked whether they felt more pressure in the fairs (this was during the feeding frenzy days) to make choices more quickly than they had in years past, when more buying was taking place in the galleries. Their response suggested I had offended them (I'm not sure whether they were conscious of their hosts being a fair, or they resented the implication that they could be manipulated by outside forces), but I had assumed their response would have been "Of course, there's more pressure...there's more competition and things happen so much more quickly."

My question was asked in good faith, I assure you. More than once during the boom, long-time collectors had confided in me that they didn't like the way collecting had changed. It didn't seem to be about the art, but rather more trophy hunting. Some of those collectors shifted gears entirely and focused more on what I consider the rising interest in exploring new form of patronage...opening exhibition spaces, joining boards of capital raising organizations, collecting specifically to support certain artists' or collectives' ongoing projects. In other words, taking a longer-term and wider view of their role in supporting the arts than just their next acquisition.

Two current and upcoming New York events have got me re-thinking about what it means to be a collector and a patron, rather than merely a trophy hunter. First is the third edition of the highly acclaimed biennial of new visual art performance, Performa 09. Unless you simply never check your email, you've probably heard that it's back and bigger than ever. But it's not only the way that it has grown that I find so impressive; it's what that says about the people who support it. From the Performa mission statement:
[Performa] is dedicated to exploring the critical role of live performance in the history of twentieth century art and to encouraging new directions in performance for the twenty-first century.

Performa’s Objectives are:

Commission new performance projects in visual arts

Present a dedicated performance biennial

Consult and collaborate with art institutions and performing art presenters around the world to create dynamic and historically significant performance programs

Offer an ongoing educational platform for expanding the knowledge and understanding of this critical area of visual art and cultural history

This ties into the other event that has me thinking, a panel discussion organized by students at FIT:
November 18, 2009, 7pm

Katie Murphy Amphitheatre
Pomerantz Art and Design Center (D Building)
Seventh Avenue and 27th Street
New York, NY 10001

The Fashion Institute of Technology Art Market Graduate Students are pleased to present the symposium Intangible: New Media and Performance Art in the Market.

New media and performance art often elude both definition and commodification, yet these practices maintain a distinct and vital presence in the arts community. The evening's discussion will explore the current and future market for intangible art.

Jeffrey Deitch: Art Dealer, Deitch Projects
Clifford Owens: Artist
Cara Starke: Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art
Thea Westreich: Principal, Thea Westreich Art Advisory Services

Martha Schwendener: Art Critic
The fact that should jump out at anyone considering those events is how even though there isn't always an object you get to take home in return for supporting an artist, making art still requires money. Moreover and equally important, many of the artists in Performa do sell their art objects, but they still see performance as a vital part of their overall practice.

And that's the essence of the issue for me. Being a "supporter of the arts" can also mean agreeing to support the overall process and all that it takes to "create" : having a studio practice, experimenting, collaborating, and sometimes creating objects. By focusing on only the last part of that process, the speculators and flippers might warrant the mantle of "collector" (that's debatable in my mind) but certainly not of "patron," which is a more sophisticated appreciation and participation in the arts. Going back through art history, we see that that level of involvement is what distinguishes those collectors who artists continue to be thankful to their entire lives and those they may wish to punch in the nose at the auctions.

Of course, no collector is obligated to be a patron. It's a calling, like being a dealer or even being an artist. But there's no doubt in my mind that patronage seemed to have been grossly overshadowed during the boom and the collectors who were turned off by the feeding frenzy now have an opportunity to slow down and reconsider what role they might play in the long-term practice of the artists they are drawn to.

Consider this an open thread on collecting and patronage.

Labels: Collecting


Anonymous Gam said...

open thread on patronage,
I was reading this past weekend about a businessman who was challenged by his friend to also support an athlete as he had done(athlete might equate an artist who's oeuvre is arguably performance and judged not so much in itself, but against fellow athletes) His support consisted of offering to an aspiring olympian, the ability to train full time. She receives funding so that she need not work during the year preceding the olympics.

Interestingly, this patronage is from an "angel" (she sports a logo for him, but only he would recognize it - so there is no commercial payoff- he remains in the shadows as it were);
the athletes results are not guaranteed - she may not win any medals;
he was incited to do it on a dare/peer pressure from his friend.

An angel in the background supporting an athletes development in sports. Not sure what this signifies, has patronage moved to sports instead of visual arts? Should it be held as a possible model for the visual arts to emulate?
It's just great to see patronage does still exist in our societies. If the visual arts is negelected in this manner, then possibly it isn't because of potential patrons, but possibly some other factor in the arts world?

I recall the patronage of owners of Stradivarius violins or other incredibly expensive classical instruments who "loan" the privilege to recipients to play their music on the instrument.

Patronage thrives in music and athletics. Why would the visual arts miss out on this? I don't believe it is simply that we have a deficit of potential patrons.

11/03/2009 10:59:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

It's hard not to look at the PR bubble around Urs Fischer and not talk about him. I find his bad boy rogue devil-may-care perfectionist persona a minty breath of fresh money that otherwise would leave the art world looking like a shanty town.

How dispiriting it is to walk into a gallery and not see a brightly lit museum quality presentation with lettraset on the walls and a gorgeous gallerina to explain what it all means.

And when a patron descends from on high and takes, nay tears the notebook paper from your hand and replaces it with Rives BFK or Arches 400 or handmade Japanese cotton rag, well it does send a shiver down your spine.

What strings are attached to these gifts?

Urs Fisher, who I can't stop talking about, spent 40,000 extra dollars flying in a sculpture (a giant sasquatch cast called "the carbon footprint"(C)) because it wasn't done for him to perfection, wants to point out, but this performance (I find it highly unlikely such tantrums are not premeditated PR stunts) is suposed to signify that no, urs is not Chris Burden, but simply someone who is burning money because there is nothing left to spend it on.

Meaning the patron wishes to vent money for irrational gains.

Our world is dying and Urs doesn't care. He is a nihilist, like his collectors.

Such exuberance must surely be infectious, a rhinovirus that causes us to sneeze with our toungues and lick with our eyes.

11/03/2009 11:13:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Our world is dying and Urs doesn't care?

Good God, Zip...lower your dosage.

Our world will be just fine...whether we like what it looks like or not is the only open question and mostly within our ability to affect.

If an artist can find backers to realize an ambitious vision, more power to them, I say. Like you'd turn it down should you get the chance...come on.

11/03/2009 11:20:00 AM  
Blogger nathaniel said...

I firmly believe the arts are, and have always been, built on the generosity of those who invest in them, in whatever form. That goes for artists, dealers, gallerists, collectors and educators, through monetary patronage or other forms of gifting. It's not a Blanche Dubois statement, mind you, but about care and reciprocity, critical inquiry and conviction.

More power not only to the artists who get the kind of support mentioned above, but also those who support them, and all of us who benefit.

11/03/2009 11:54:00 AM  
Blogger zipthwung said...

Urs Fischer is a nihilist. I will not be condescended to.

The art world of Urs Fischer caters to the fantasies of the plutocrats. Calvin Tompkins and Jerry Saltz are lackeys of Gavin Brown's media machine, now in lockstep with the crypto-aristocracy and their museums.

Urs Fischer's giant hole was sand in the face of honest gallerists like Becky Smith.

A rising tide lifts all boats? Ha! This is a death match.

What level are you on?

11/03/2009 12:14:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Capone said...

As long as Zip brought it up (and now he needs to take it down a notch) I have been trying to wrap my head around Urs' installation in which he excavated the floor of GBE. I was told that this 'piece' sold for a ridiculous amount of money--more than enough to recover the cost of reinstalling the floor and buy some new shoes for papa.

On one level, the whole project is completely inane. I don't like his work and this project seemed a contrived act of "institutional critique" (where's my gun...?), because it's hard to believe the gallery taking the risk to do this without pre-selling the project. I did not think it was "brimming with meaning and mojo" (NY Mag, sorry, Jerr). So what you've got is a collector who paid for nothing, a gallerist with a brand new floor, and an artist flush with rebellious credibility--well, as much rebellion as $250K can buy to do essentially nothing.

On the other hand. A collector or patron or gallerist who wants to support this type of thing, if Urs' overall star is visibly on the rise, then throwing money at something so lavish and immaterial is essentially buying stock in the artists' career. If a collector is happy with a Certificate and a photo of a hole in the floor, then god bless that daffy guy, but that's not what he's really spending $250K on. This isn't something you flip at auction. This is a profound expression of belief in the future for the artist.

The right-wing government used to demand that "art had to succeed in the marketplace." Well, it did, and look what happened there. Our new government made a call to pitch in, so perhaps the disenchanted collectors and philanthropists will direct their energies elsewhere. That's a really good point, Ed, it's not just all on the artists; gallerists and collectors have to shoulder the burden of re-thinking the model as well.

11/03/2009 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

yeah, and often artists themselves are patrons of sorts . (I know I am my biggest patron! ; )) But I think of Guido Molinari, a painter who supported a classical quartet who then in turn honored him with their name. You're right patronage in all its forms is really is a generosity.

I wonder if the appearance of a lack of visual patrons is more from a difficulty of discerning whom may merit from such a gesture versus a difficulty of budgets. Money is always budgeted, good times or bad. (well usually)

11/03/2009 12:18:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Urs Fischer's giant hole was sand in the face of honest gallerists like Becky Smith.

You'll really have to extrapolate on that one Zip...not at all sure what the connection is.

11/03/2009 12:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's hard not to look at the PR bubble around Urs Fischer and not talk about him. "

"How dispiriting it is to walk into a gallery and not see a brightly lit museum quality presentation with lettraset on the walls and a gorgeous gallerina to explain what it all means."

It's hard to read this stuff and no when the double negatives mean a possible and when zip is just leaving words out or throwing extra words in.

And the paragraph about flying in the sculpture for $40,000 makes no sense at all.

Could you maybe proofread so we can understand what it is you're trying to say?

11/03/2009 12:33:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Capone said...

Zip: the high-end art world is controlled by rich people? Not exactly a news flash.

I didn't like the gallery crater in the slightest. But I don't think that piece was done for me. I recognize that it was speaking to another frequency maybe that only really rich people can hear. I wonder: are neo-neo-conceptualists that way because they can afford to be, and not because they are poor as I originally thought?

"He's not a nihilist, he's just European."

11/03/2009 12:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A death match? For fuck's sake, dude, what planet are you on? If you mean artists who don't "make it" (whatever that means) are dead, then hyperbole isn't even the word. If you mean that the world needs saving, then why are you wasting your time posting on a blog or making art? Note: this is rhetorical - I am also an artist - but it makes a strong point about your lousy argument. And, speaking of, I might add that your ongoing texts benefit greatly from ED'S generosity and online space. The dialogue between you and everyone else takes the commitment of time and thinking (well, in some cases, just time). Your just being and writing here proves you wrong.

And bringing up the idea of condescension after all the accusations and name-calling you've flung around in Ed's comments over all the time I've been reading this blog is laughable at best.

11/03/2009 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I'm sorry...am I the only here who doesn't take Zip seriously?

Every now and then his stream of consciousness rants have a pearl of wisdom in them, and he's always entertaining (even when he's self-absorbed and contradictory), which is why I publish his comments, but it's all a performance...right?

11/03/2009 01:51:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's just hard when Zip is using folks with good intentions - and good arguments - as a punching bag. but your point is fair enough, Ed

Anon 01:35:00 PM

11/03/2009 01:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

and who can't love a chimp in an orange spacesuit? The icon tells the whole story.

11/03/2009 01:57:00 PM  
Anonymous Sean Capone said...

It's more like: the conversation has now turned its attention to Zip, who is just trying to get attention paid to him/her. It's good to take everything with a sense of humor and a grain of salt but the topic is actually about collectors and patronage.

11/03/2009 02:21:00 PM  
Blogger Dalen said...

Maybe the gallery crater seemed a bit contrived to some, but I can appreciate the idea.

About a month ago, I unexpectedly came upon a similar, albeit naturally occurring scene, in the basement kitchen of my office building. The workman was absent, and there was a 4 foot wide hole in the floor, with dirt piled up beside it. The effect was jarring. Here I was, in this controlled, sterile environment where everyone walks around with their bottled water and hand sanitizer, and here's an undeniable physical reminder that earth (with a small e) is right below us. I think we forget that sometimes as we go about our day within the cocoon of man-made mental and physical constructions. It was the greatest thing I'd seen in days, and it certainly stuck in my mind.

I didn't see the Urs Fischer installation, and not sure I'd even heard about it when I had my own earth encounter, but I hope viewers had an experience similar to mine. Art that strongly affects one's thoughts and senses should have patrons.

11/03/2009 02:30:00 PM  
Anonymous Gam said...

the pit versus the London Tate crack

Doris Salcedo Shibboleth 2007

"Doris Salcedo’s Shibboleth is the first work to intervene directly in the fabric of the Turbine Hall. Rather than fill this iconic space with a conventional sculpture or installation, Salcedo has created a subterranean chasm that stretches the length of the Turbine Hall. "


11/03/2009 03:34:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People collect things for different reasons - according to the budget, personal aesthetic judgment, influenced by PR etc. In the context of todays market there is an opportunity and many people use this no doubt to collect things that will of course regain their value. But when it comes to patronage - it is on a completely different level. Collector who becomes a patron takes responsibility in a historical context. It is not about PR, but about historical values, aesthetic judgment and art knowledge that many generation will carry.

11/03/2009 04:36:00 PM  
Anonymous zipthwung said...

Attention is a commodity. Who am I punching? I don't think I attacked anyone other than the usual empty headed cheerleading for a museum show. Do I have to read October? I don't think so.

Patronage is topical - my example is taken form recent press. I was making light of that. I could talk about no-name artists who benefit greatly from a few hundred, art supplies, or a space to work in.

Jeffrey Deitch sponsored a study (graduate thesis) on how urban planning should include artists and work space for artists was the single most important factor in creating a "scene" - i.e. quality work.

Is Urs fischer doing this show "just for attention"?
does anyone "take him seriously"?

The hole Urs fischer dug, the hole cost something like $250,000 which as you know is a lot of money that could be spent on socially relevant art like planting sculpture gardens to prevent desertification and building earthwork fountains to help small villages attain sustainability. As well as soup kitchens that serve culture in the form of chemical foams - the kind of culinary leadership that could lead Africa out of the dark ages of hand ground flatbreads and half cooked game animals and into the Aquarian age of nutritious fruit slurries.

But in my example I alluded to Becky Smith as the sad starving moppet looking in the window at Gavin Brown's excesses (her only crime being not enough cash)- though I got the timeline wrong. I should have said "in retrospect" that these kinds of gestures seen excessive when you are flying low - taking hedge fund dollars and fueling the fire instead of saving for a rainy day. The truly wealthy don't have to worry about rainy days do they?

The idea that Urs Fischer is a major artist and who somehow is getting no real critical response rings alarm bells. It's almost all good? Why urs fischer now? Is this relatively mammoth show necessary? Should I even be asking that question?

I dont blame his benefactors, I'm sure they enjoy the whole thing. I'm glad they are here. Or here. But they must understand that for every Urs there are a hundred struggling artists who could use the 40,000 dollars it cost to ship his sculpture by air rather than (the horror) leave it for later.

I ask these questions not becausse I take them seriously, but because I am interested in the idea of seriousness, which seems to be less than ideally represented at the New Museum - at least from what I have read. Why do people care what the New Museum does in the name of "the new"?

I read the toungue breaks when there are too many people in the room. I've seen that malfunction happen and I wish someone had forseen that. so minor.

I dont know if that covered it or not, hopefully I took it down a notch and lowered my dosage. gotta go.


11/03/2009 05:45:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

To start, I tend to agree with the tenor of Zip's comments.

The course of art in the first half of the twentieth century was directed and supported by a relatively small coterie of collectors and patrons. The social gymnastics which occurred was also limited by the small size of artistic circles.

Todays artworld is considerably larger, population since turn of the 20th century as increased by at least four times, probably more. Yet we still tend to look back on twentieth century models like they will apply today. While we can learn from prior models the changes in demographics has caused an increase in the overall noise level as well.

The recent collapse in the art market signals the end of an era which was corrupt, speculative, and given to rather more trophy hunting than anything else. Tout Meyer all but just said so and when the history of the period is written, the speculative bubble will be foremost in the tale.

Has anyone else but me noticed that we are entering the second decade of the new century? let alone the second millennium? and we are still talking about art, artists and collectors who are seeped in the last century? Urs? $250,000 for last centuries art? Geezus, are we still satisfying the fin de siècle ennui. Maybe it's just the existential hangover caused by herd behavior.

I don't think there is any need to change the business model of the artworld, capitalism works just fine, ask Jen Bekman. The size of the art market has increased enough make the midrange market viable if it also creates a viable secondary market. The secondary market is the key.

I do think we need to jettison the failed intellectual ideas of the last century. I do think we need to take it all a bit more seriously and divide the "trophy hunters" from the true patrons. Today's billionaires made their fortunes in the last century, they are collecting from a taste and pespective rooted in the last century. Urs, not mine.

11/03/2009 09:03:00 PM  
Anonymous Kate said...


11/04/2009 04:27:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Becky Smith as the sad starving moppet looking in the window at Gavin Brown's excesses (her only crime being not enough cash)"

not if you talk to some of her artists. basically a bit of a ponzi scheme with payments, which sometimes led to late payment or no payment. you can chalk that up to not enough cash (duh) or you can say it was hubris and bad judgement in taking on more expenses than she could reasonably afford.

the reason i bring this up is not to harp on Becky Smith but that it is a cautionary tale....for artists as well as dealers. You simply cannot depend on income being there year after year in this business.

11/05/2009 01:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Debby Luzia said...

Hi Ed,
I completely agree with one of the anonymous comments - collecting and patronage are two separate things. There are indeed collectors who are also patrons - they adopt an artist and "see him through" but they were always a minority and rather obscure - seeing it is not something people brag about.

Personally I think that patronage can be bad for an artist. A good artist will make his way just like a good designer, architect or musician. If not - maybe he should consider another career.

11/06/2009 11:04:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

I think the Urs Hole was a great idea but having it done in New York where it costs much more than it would in art centre in my city
is where it leans toward excess.

I don't agree that there is no social angle. His point is purely theoretical and artworldish, but the 2000's has been a decade of bombing. And a lot of these bombings were about pretty etherealistic ideals. So stirring it up in bellybuttonism (aka "this piece is about this very gallery") as he does isn't so incongruous with our times. Perhaps he is more symptomatic of his times than a true visionaire, though.

Cedric C

11/07/2009 08:05:00 PM  

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