From Patron to Collector

From Patron to Collector

BY ANANT ART · JUNE 22, 2017

The traditional patron always comes across as a selfless figure, who through his benevolent act sustains not only diverse art practices but through that develops an archive of sorts for the future. This transaction between the patron and artist has many times resulted in exceptional body of works which modern art history categorises into various schools, and styles. The traditional patron's motives must have resulted from his or her fetishes or curiosities where the sole intention is to collect for private viewing. While the pre-modern patronage, i.e. the time period before the early 20th century, is marked by an act of connoisseurship, where the artwork had not attained the role of a commodity which could be sold and resold. Whereas the contemporary art collector has a mutating role to perform, one of the patron and also one who creates an economic value for art. Compared to the pre-modern times the contemporary art collector also shares an equal relation with the artists. This comparison was foregrounded to state that with the changes in time the role of patrons and their relations with the artists too have changed. The hierarchies are broken and this particular equation has redefined the art world.

contemporary art world

Anpu Varkey, Lava Tree (PC: Akshat Nauriyal)

Art collectors are guided by their personal interests, as the history of modern and contemporary art testifies that many of them started collecting upcoming and young artists whose works they could connect to. It is a reflection of their aesthetic sensibilities and has many times played a significant role in the promotion of important art movements and styles. Most of the present day prominent collectors have started their journey from a younger age, where they ventured out to interact with young artists and acquire their works because of a genuine passion. Studies show that most of the art collectors acquired their first work between the ages of 20 to 30. An important example of this type of collector would be Anupam Poddar, the Founder of Devi Art Foundation, who has built his collection of contemporary Indian artists from a very young age, especially when many of these artists had not attained the critical acclaim they received later on. Hence, the collector's role is not only to assess the market value of the upcoming artist but also to foresee the artistic merit. An impulsive collector may not be guided by the history of art and the trends of the art world. But it is highly recommended that a collector should develop a deep sense of history of art, art movements and be constantly aware about the newer trends and developments in the art world. Adding to these, one should maintain a close connection with the artists; knowing their intentions behind the creation, their artistic processes, and getting familiarised with their statements help a great deal in understanding their works. Moreover it helps one to take those cautious steps which would develop in a carefully curated collection in the long term.

Internationally acclaimed Mexican artist Débora Delmar observes that "Collectors are as important to young artists as investors are to new businesses. I think it's important for artists to find collectors that truly believe in their brand because they appreciate their vision as artists and somehow also share this vision." This particular statement affirms the role of the collector as somebody important in the sustenance of the art world. The collector is not only a benefactor but also a facilitator. Besides buying the works many of them loan their collections for significant exhibitions. In an age where art exhibitions and the visibility of the physical art work in the public matters a lot compared to the pre-modern times when works were relegated to private viewing, collectors play a significant role in maintaining this institution.

In a recent article on budding young collectors published in Architectural Digest they too observe that 'more and more art enthusiasts and connoisseurs in their late 20s to early 40s are coming out to look at art - to attend gallery walk-throughs and exhibition openings, to participate in workshops and, perhaps, even to buy original artwork.' Galleries too are generating new models for making art affordable and accessible for these younger patrons. They organise art nights, young collector salons, talks, and affordable art sales for them. Interestingly most of these young collectors are also relying on online platforms to buy art. This shift is interesting because as much as this renewed interest in collecting is based on a connoisseurship, it is also deeply rooted in a sense of patronage. A sense of responsibility is visible towards arts and culture of this country and its emerging young talents.

In the article in Architetural Digest young collector Natasha Jeyasingh asserts on the collective responsibility we owe to the artists of our time. "There have always been patrons of art - [earlier], you had princes and kings. Now, all of us have to step up to become patrons of art. Especially the contemporary art of your generation - it is the cultural marker of your time. If you don't support and engage with it, then you're just losing a vital form of history."

Contemporary art market allows sustaining the diverse reasons to be a part of it - collecting for passion, or for investing. But one has to be focused about these. It is easy to get caught up in both aspects and lose interest due to the accumulation of bad works. With patience comes an acute aesthetic judgment. One also requires time to think it over and be clear in their judgment about the motive. Like architect Ashiesh Shah remarked in an article in Mid-Day, "Go see a work in a gallery a few times and ask yourself if you can wake up to it every morning. It's not a staple; it's a luxury buy."

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