Who and where are the art collectors?

This article was written for Global Art Directory: Artists Info http://www.artistsinfo.co.uk/

Who are all the art collectors, and where are they? Any ‘blockbuster’ exhibition you care to visit in any major city anywhere in the world involves pre-booking and / or queues. Such is their popularity, and there’s something I like about a crowded gallery - about being with like-minded people. My most memorable recent one was the Titian in London. Being quite tall it’s not so bad for me but even so you have to manipulate your way in front of a painting and then try to disassociate yourself from the maelstrom all around you. What does this tell us?

Well, it tells us that Fine Art is very popular, it tells us that great paintings - or rather famous painters - are very popular, and it trends into the celebrity driven world we all now seem forced to inhabit. I’ve also noticed that on review programmes, those dealing with exhibitions of paintings or sculpture are usually scheduled at the end of the running order - thus keeping the best to the last - as in any good tease.

Are we to assume from this popularity, that fine art is well understood? That the aims and ambitions, the constructions and compositions, the work and the effort, the learning and the research, the technique and the application, and all the decisions, judgements and manipulations of artists are comprehended? That their meanings are understood? That the background support - all the middle people, the agents, spouses, models, dealers, auction houses and galleries – is all appreciated?

Grayson Perry in one of his recent BBC Reith Lectures touched on this… on the route by which fame and recognition in fine art is achieved. You may have noticed that so far I have yet to mention the C word. Surely all the above is rendered irrelevant without the Collector? We can remove from the equation those artists with private means, the Cezannes and Toulouse-Lautrecs, for they truly are exceptions which prove the rule. Mostly, without collectors be they ever so Saatchified or humble, very few artists could survive. And many don’t of course without doing some other job, à la Rousseau Le Douanier or by teaching. We can also think of Larkin the Librarian.

So where are they? Where are the collectors who make it all possible, without whom we wouldn’t have the queues snaking and shuffling round the RA courtyard? I wonder if these people realise how vital their contribution is. Do they care? I suspect most never even think about it; never consider how their sensibilities affect the flow and direction of art. It is their money and their spending decisions which feed back into the market place, both supporting the artist and, more importantly, affecting his or her decisions about future work direction. We may never admit to this of course, but it is true nevertheless, even if only in a negative way.

Collectors, Mr Saatchi excepted, are often invisible either by design or circumstance. I know one collector pretty well and she, wise woman that she is, does know her power, once saying to me when I offered her a painting at a special price, “No, Richard, you don’t understand. For those of us who can’t or don’t ‘do’ art, this is our contribution to what we love. We want to pay a proper price.” I’ve never forgotten that. Mind you, whatever is a ‘proper price’ is another subject altogether!

By living and working in rural North Devon, I, in one jump, remove myself from the serious Fine Art marketplace. On the one hand I have little choice, and on the other, it is my choice. Is it therefore just a matter of economics? Do collectors need to be rich, and if so, is that the reason pure and simple they do not live near me? I find this hard to believe because down here in the West Country, there are many second-home owners, who are supposed to be quite rich. Many of these are Londoners.

I am told by gallery directors that these people tend not to decorate their second homes with fine art, but with pretty local views or eye-catching gaudy stuff of which there is a depressingly large amount in so-called galleries. It is work a painter friend of mine calls her “grockle art”. I wish many of these businesses were more honest, and simply called themselves ‘picture shops’ because actually that is what they are. Some sophisticated Londoners buy cheap art in the provinces and resell it up country. Good luck to them… providing they buy good art.

But now, wherever you are, you can access some great fine art by visiting good online galleries like this “Global Art Directory” http://www.artistsinfo.co.uk/. You save time, travelling expense, grim weather and those gorgeous ghastly gallery girls about whom Andy White sang “… don’t want to catch their eye / They’re too beautiful for you and I / But gallery girls get lonely too .../… Some café in the middle of Europe / Backstage at the ballet / Edgar Dégas 1890 / Gallery girls are just like me and you / They get lonely too!”

I can only speak for myself but I would always replace a painting or make some other recompense if a buyer, after receiving a painting unseen, was unsatisfied. Online galleries can also be a nice introduction to artists’ studios; you can visit them in their lair, have relaxed conversation, refreshment and buy or not buy as you wish. I embrace visits and it never seems important to me whether they buy or not. Not as important as the conversation.

So, I entreat all collectors and would-be collectors: follow your gut and support the artists of those paintings which move you directly, which make you feel good, which make your flesh creep and tingle. For tomorrow these are the pictures people will be queuing to see. The poor sods who painted them will likely as not be dead, but that’s just the nature of the game. Who said, “No man is a prophet in his own time”?

Isabella
- 14 September 2017 at 12:54pm

I wonder if the word 'collector' is specific enough to cover the many reasons people are buying art. I have a close connection in the contemporary gallery world in London (you know who it is) and so I understand a little of what passes for 'collecting' in that rarefied sphere. There are many 'collectors' buying simply to speculate and they will keep the work they buy unseen in a warehouse until such time as they want to realise their profit. They do not necessarily love or appreciate what they buy. In their case, art is a commodity, like cocoa beans. I suppose these people have always existed but I do wonder if the hazy edges of what passes for contemporary art make the evaluation of what is 'worth speculating on' very complex. I enjoyed the Grayson Perry exploration of what gives a work 'kudos' and how the acquired baggage of history of galleries, owners, reviewers etc can make work appreciate in value. You can't necessarily see if something is 'good' any more with contemporary art. Someone else maybe has to advise you...and that person usually stands to make money.. I am not quite as cynical as I sound, however. There is a lot of contemporary art that is really interesting and collectors, speculators, whatever, make it possible by supporting the artists and the art world.
RM
- 14 September 2017 at 12:54pm

I'm so glad you found time to respond, knowing how busy you are Isabella.

On 'collectors' I cannot disagree with anything you say. Personally I have little interest in speculators but enormous love for people who buy art simply because they love it.

On worthiness, I always seem to fall back on something Brian Sewell once said, "If you tell me something is Art, it is Art, and I will then judge it by that criteria." This perhaps is enough, for it gives each one of us, individually, the 'permission' to say, "No, this is rubbish / fraudulent / phoney / gimmicky / great / challenging / ... (fill in as you wish!).
Leave a Comment