Monday, 19 October 2009

Red Shift - Buying, sharing and living with contemporary art.

On Friday evening I went to a party held in the loft apartment of The Tobacco Factory in Bristol to celebrate an exhibition hosted by The Collective First Bristol Group; part of a UK wide art buying collective initiative.

"The Collective is a new, entry-level approach to collecting cutting edge contemporary art for the domestic setting. It has been running successfully for more than five years, enabling its members to share and enjoy works of contemporary art in their homes and tap into stimulating artistic scenes that have traditionally been open to more wealthy collectors." seen here

Patrick Haines

This interesting initiative started in London and has now grown to include two further London groups, Bristol, Birmingham and Cambridge. Members contribute a modest monthly sum to the regional group fund which is then used to purchase an artwork for the group. The artworks are then rotated to different members to enjoy, on loan, in their home. It is a fantastic idea, a great way for less wealthy folk to enjoy buying and owning art whilst supporting the artists they purchase from.

The event itself was extremely impressive. The loft apartment at the top of the Tobacco Factory arts venue is the home of one of the Bristol collective and provided the perfect venue to demonstrate the group's ethos. The work had been curated from both the London and Bristol groups and included some heady art-world names - Tracy Emin, Chris Ofili, Wolfgang Tilmans, Peter Doig, Tacita Dean, Martin Creed....

The modest purse of the groups however do not run to any major works, the pieces are mostly prints or very small works. In the big picture, this seems like a sensible strategy, lending some weight and credibility on which to found the initiative. It is also a fairly safe approach, and could render the collection a little bland if not challenged in the longer term. What makes the idea exciting to me is the opportunity to collect emerging artists, to take a risk on a new talent. One would undoubtedly get more bang for the buck, and it would be a fantastic support for the artists in question. No doubt, one would occasionally purchase a clanger - but that must surely be part of the fun!

I imagine those involved are true art lovers in the fullest of senses. It must be a difficult negotiation to choose the work, I believe the Bristol group nominate two members to buy at a time. I am sure passions are stirred and opinions engaged! It must be tempting to strive for impeccable curatorship and vision; a cohesive, savvy, sharp eyed collection. It must also be tempting to bet on the favourites in the interests of financial investment - but I am not sure that this is a good premise on which to collect. Better by far to have a living, breathing, vibrantly jostling set of works imbued with the hearts and spirits of both buyer and artist.

That said however, there were some brave inclusions in the show including a confrontational collection of Stanley Donwood (Radiohead's illustrator) paintings, demonic and frankly terrifying images lined the walls of the entry hall as one stepped from the lift - yikes!

Stanley Donwood

My personal favourite was a tiny cast bronze of a dead bird by Patrick Haines, cleverly shown on a window sill - I didn't see it at first but came across it later in the evening, subtle and kind of heartbreaking, the careful placing was perfect. I also liked a beautifully sensitive print by Andrew Mania called Theo and an exquisite James Ireland print of a tree. Both these artists coincidentally made the prints through The Spike Print Editions 2007 project. Six international artists produced a unique set of limited edition prints for Spike Print Studio in Bristol, made possible through a grant from the Arnolfini Collections Trust. Bristol Museum and Art Gallery have received one of each print for their collection, as part of the conditions of the Award.

Andrew Mania - Theo

Part of the rationale for the show was to bring the concept of the collective to the attention of potential members and new groups- and hurrah to that! What a great, egalitarian project...and what a splendid party!

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