Art Lovers & Art Collectors: The Next Generation
by Kitty Dinshaw
As the world changes, so too must the art-world. Galleries can no longer rely on being exclusive and intimidating, the preserve of the wealthy, in an era where we consume art daily on our phones and are inspired to go to exhibitions by other people’s selfies.
There is no doubt that art is as relevant to the millennial generation as it has been to generations past, if not more so. Art is accessible in a way it never was before and the explosion of contemporary art, especially in mediums such as performance and installation work, has contributed to a growing democratisation. When I was a child, a trip to an art gallery meant wandering through endless huge rooms with religious paintings that all looked similar, meant nothing to me, and were equally incomprehensible to anyone without an art history degree. When I took my seven year old son to see Lee Bul at the Hayward Gallery, some thirty years later, there were sculptural costumes hanging from the ceiling, brilliant and engaging performance films, and even the ubiquitous “selfie moment”. It’s art in a glorious, exciting, colourful form which is speaking directly to the generation that consumes it at an ever-faster pace.
Museums, galleries and art fairs have caught on in a big way. Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins might be the most Instagram-famous artworks ever, but most museum and fair directors, curators and artists across the world are alive to the viral power of social media. And of course, art is finding an audience as never before. Only a decade ago, if you wanted to see a new Tate show, you had to visit the Tate. Now you can see most of it on your phones, either filtered through Tate’s own feed, or from those you follow.
Instagram has also opened up the market to artists in an incredibly positive way; particularly women or minority artists, long ignored or underrepresented by the art establishment. Now artists don’t need a gallery, curator, critic or collector to support them and their work – just some basic knowledge of how a fairly simple app works. Artists can live and work outside the established art world and it makes little difference. We cannot underestimate the importance of this and the positive change that will flow as a result.
Major institutions are listening to their new audience: curating shows that people actually want to see, and inventing new ways of engaging with art. Friday Lates have been happening for a number of years now, and are hugely popular. I was excited to attend (completely by chance) a twenty minute gallery tour by one of Tate Britain’s staff, picking out his favourite works by women artists in the collection. Apparently that tour was a twice-weekly occurrence! Lunchtime tours and talks are now common at Tate, the National Gallery, and international museums too, designed to catch office staff on their lunch break.
In Britain, there is a logical thread that connects the explosion in art appreciation and enjoyment to the 2001 Act of Parliament that made all museums and galleries in the country free. The millennial generation have grown up knowing that art is not off limits to them, because it quite simply hasn’t been.
This relates back to my point about museums and galleries listening and engaging with a new audience – their whole model, their whole raison d’etre, changed in 2001. They needed to rely more on government and Arts Council funding, rather than ticket sales, and for that they needed to show they had a larger purpose than just hanging great art on the walls. Special exhibitions (which are still ticketed and often expensive) have to be truly exceptional now, as museums know that if they aren’t…well, their visitors can always get their hit of art by viewing the permanent collection for free.
So how do we, in the commercial area of the art world, encourage this new generation of art-lovers to become art-collectors – and therefore help a new generation of artists to thrive?
For starters, there simply has to be less snobbery, particularly around price. I still struggle to understand how it can benefit artists (except at the truly blue-chip places where the work is sold “behind the scenes” anyway) for a potential buyer (someone who has seen an artist’s work on Instagram, for example) to walk into an intimidating space where no-one greets them, no-one talks to them and where there are no prices on the walls.
At the end of the day, galleries are selling art. Very few are actually non-profit, and so most need to pay their rent to survive. So why try to disguise that fact? Enjoying art is a beautiful and rarefied experience, yes, but so is shopping at Liberty or Dover Street Market. No-one would ever suggest that they remove the price tags from their clothes.
One of the schemes we at Subject Matter are involved with is Own Art. Own Art is a brilliant, Arts Council-funded project that aims to encourage more people to buy art by allowing them to pay for their artwork in monthly, interest-free instalments. They also take on all the risk of the loan, so the gallery is covered and the client gets their artwork immediately. It has been hugely successful because it has identified a gap: people on meaningful monthly salaries, with disposable income to buy art, but who don’t have one large sum available to them at any one time. It also encourages people to think that art is not actually that expensive, or that out-of-reach – it’s just the cost of their monthly Starbucks habit, or a couple of meals out each month.
At Subject Matter, we’re also pretty evangelical about the role online galleries play in democratising the art world; possibly because we are online ourselves! The popularity of online art galleries is growing year on year, as are third-party platforms such as Artsy. You can browse, buy and frame art, all from the comfort of your sofa. Yes, we don’t have a physical space, so we have to be innovative: pop-up exhibitions to provide that still-necessary offline experience, photoshopping artworks into clients’ room shots for them, or DM-ing with clients on a Saturday afternoon when they are home, they have time, and they need your advice! And of course the obligatory free shipping and free returns, vital for any online enterprise.
This is all valuable work: we are contributing to a more open art world, we are embracing change, and most importantly, we are making art-buying easy, fun and enjoyable. The more people that enjoy buying art, and do so regularly, the more artists will be able to give up their second, third or fourth jobs and do what they love full-time.
Ultimately, one cannot disconnect art from the artists who make it. That amazing Instagram image was taken by someone, somewhere in the world. That artist you saw in the blog article is making but also wants to be selling. That solo show you saw a while ago has now closed but you loved the artist and want to follow their development.
The more people that buy art, the more artists will thrive. We are at a moment where we can effect real, lasting positive change – both as art-lovers and art-buyers. Let’s do it!
Kitty Dinshaw is a director at Subject Matter Art.
Follow them on Instagram: @SubjectMatterArt or visit www.subjectmatterart.com for more information
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