On Collecting and Patronage : Open Thread
“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:
IntangibleThe 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.
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
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.