The days of traditional art collecting may be behind us. Technology and the push for diversity are changing the way individuals and museums acquire art and their approach to building collections. While the Covid-19 pandemic intensified this shift, it was probably only a matter of time before this cultural reckoning happened.
For many museums, art acquisitions are often limited to their local communities. The works of art from renowned donors living nearby can often dictate the outlook for their collections. This select group of people often sit on museum boards, acquisition committees, and make up the bulk of their generous donations or loans. Although usually not explicit, cultural institutions can feel responsible for the tastes and preferences of donors, which inevitably reflect the works exhibited in museum galleries.
New models such as Exchange of museums, a for-profit service that identifies collection gaps in cultural institutions and connects collectors and museums nationwide, could enable institutions to diversify artworks and broaden their perspective. In a conversation with Artistic newsformer chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and co-founder of Museum Exchange, Michael Darling, discussed how the organization can help institutions change their narratives.
“As we speak to collectors, we will focus on bringing works by artists of color into the offering. This may mean seeking out collectors who we already know collect inclusively” or to inform collectors about artists and works they might want to pay attention to.”I feel like we could stimulate that, especially bringing them the perspective of museums who want to tell a different story.”
While museums deal with internal and external demands depending on the types of art they collect and those they exhibit, the individual art collection also evolves. Traditional auction houses such as Sotheby’s and Christie’s have suffered significant hits due to the Covid pandemic. Despite their efforts to move to a digital platform where buyers could click to bid, The Wall Street Journal reports that Christie’s sales fell 22%, while Sotheby’s suffered a 12% drop in sales. It is perhaps less a symptom of economic hardship besetting the buyers that these auction houses are attracting, but more a sign that individuals are craving a different kind of interaction – for art that reacts to the times. challenges we face.
With art dealers and art fairs having to go virtual, collectors have become more empowered. People looking for contemporary art no longer need to enter the White Cube Gallery or rely on dealers for information about artists and their works. Customers can now browse gallery websites or updated social media, do their research and weigh their options in the digital marketplace. Buyers can also build direct relationships with artists, who in turn become more assertive and independent with their brand image. Whether it’s sending a direct message to an artist on Instagram or planning a virtual studio tour, the interactions between artists, dealers and buyers are blurring.
Many museum committees and individual collectors now have in common a desire to ask critical questions about what they acquire and from whom. Cultural institutions want to remain relevant and responsive to their communities. The last thing they want is to appear insensitive and indifferent to the socio-political circumstances around us.
New and established collectors want to buy works of art that resonate with them. It is worth supporting artists whose work reflects our struggles or memories rather than buying artwork as an investment. There is no doubt that the art world has suffered during the COVID-19 crisis, but we can be grateful for some positive results, such as a more democratic and diverse approach to building collections.