Saturday, 4 December 2010

On Collecting: Transactions in Contemporary Art

Sorcha Dallas Gallery - Alex Pollard - Collaborations - seen here

I went to a symposium at The National Gallery of Wales yesterday On Collecting: Transactions in Contemporary Art. The event was Chaired by Gordon Dalton from art agency Mermaid & Monster, facilitated by g39, and was part of the Contemporary Art Society's National Network programme for their centenary year. The purpose of the event was to '...investigate the market for contemporary art in Wales.'

Wales, like many regions and cities in Scotland and England has a lack of buyers and collectors. It also lacks the infrastructure to encourage such. There are remarkably few prestigious commercial galleries, Martin Tinney Gallery in Cardiff being a marked exception, although his approach is a very traditional one.

We heard from a number of engaged and inspirational speakers, Sorcha Dallas who has a contemporary gallery in Glasgow; Karsten Schmitz, German collector and founder of the Stifitung Federkiel, a foundation for contemporary art and culture; Ute Volz, Managing Director of HALLE 14, an arts centre in Leipzig, Germany which was founded and is supported by Karsten Schmitz; Ellen Mara De Wachter Exhibitions Curator of the Zabludowicz Collection in London. We also heard from Nicholas Thornton, Head of Modern & Contemporary Art at the National Gallery of Wales about their collections policy.

I went along to hear some ideas about building and encouraging an art buying ecology in Wales. There is no lack of talent, we are particularly well  endowed with creative folk and have many exceptional initiatives and organisations working and innovating. We are beginning to build the critical culture we have been lacking through gallery publications, essays and arts press. Undoubtedly however, there are some missing links.

As Gordon Dalton mentioned in his introduction, a vibrant and well respected art school network is an important ingredient, and it was ironic that the previous day, CSAD in Cardiff had announced the closure of its well respected sculpture department. Last year it scaled back the Time Based Studies element. 

It has been an issue of debate for a very long while, that Wales is not traditionally a visual culture but a literary one. There is not the depth of cultural attachment to the visual image. This has been addressed through various surveys, including Peter Lord's definitive trilogy of books. I think that the newer generations of artists have embraced the issue wholeheartedly and transcended the stereotype, we have many top class artists here who can easily hold their own on the international stage.

This symposium has opened the debate, but I actually left feeling a little disheartened - the amazing projects we heard about seem a long way away from Wales. Sorcha Dallas asserted and reinforced the fact that there is not a collecting culture in Glasgow either, which I found surprising; the ingredients would appear to be in place in a historical city which has a highly respected art school and was the European City of Culture in 1990. 

As Chris Brown from g39 said in his closing statements, it is not wise to try to adopt any model wholesale, there have been a number of notable failures through that approach in Wales. The important thing is the collective will, enthusiasm, persistence, innovation and energy of those working in the arts in whatever capacity, we must all take our part in valuing and promoting our artists and bringing them to the attention of curators, collectors and buyers on the international scene as well as on our own doorsteps.

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