Contemporary art - you can afford it! Agata Mazur interviews Beatrice Hodgkin

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Affordable Contemporary Art, cover


What I like most about your book is that it works just like GPS - you show what the options to achieve certain goal are, which in this case is creating art collection, without giving ready solutions or even suggestions. Instead readers receive a huge list of issues to consider before choosing the way.

That was a very conscious decision. I of course mentioned some artists and galleries, but I wanted the guide to be something that you can use how and where ever you want. You could be in a small town or massive metropolis and you would have the tools to discover art that you love in your own way, to make your collection exactly as you want it to be. The other thing is that I discovered while talking to art world people, is that everyone gives slightly different opinions . So I thought it was important to make it very clear to people that they need to find their own trusted sources - to develop relationships with galleries with a similar taste to your own, whose opinions you trust. In a way they then do part of the work for you - in finding artists that you might like to invest in. There is so much to choose from, it can seem overwhelming and it can be hard to know where to start especially with all that the internet has to offer at your fingertips - websites, galleries, magazines, blogs. Some internet galleries are amazing (like - the owner Sarah is brilliant, she goes on all graduate shows, chooses the best artists and then puts their work online) but you need to have your choice narrowed in some ways - and finding trusted sources helps you do that.

For many people, particularly for financial reasons, the idea that they can become collectors sounds odd. But buying art is not only for global collectors, as it's not about money, is it? Limitations might be even the reason to be more creative.

That's the fun of it. There is something to be found for every budget and some ways of buying can be really creative. Several years ago I started going to the Victoria & Albert Village Fete, which is artists initiative, where each stand would be set up and run by an artist. Every year the artist Rob Ryan has a stand (or has up until now). One time, I paid one pound and was presented with his artists' interpretation of a scratch card. It was strange, just like a lottery game - with silver layer to scratch away. You followed the instructions beneath each image that you scratched away and that lead you to another image to scratch away - like a treasure hunt. If you got to the centre image having followed all the instructions in 60 seconds you could win a print, which was similar to the one you found on the scratching. I have the two framed side by side in my flat. There are also some wonderful fairs like Art Barter and the free art fair, where you don't buy art with money but exchange art for things like babysitting or lending your house to the artist for a holiday. Buying art here is not a financial transaction, it's much more. And I also think that when you buy something this way, you always have bigger emotional attachment to the piece. Because you've got it through some extraordinary way. You really don't have to be zillionaire to buy art. Just because you read about million pound auction headlines doesn't mean it's like that at every level. You can also buy quirkily little prints or even things as small as a snow globe, which might sound a bit kitschy but can be fun. In my bedroom I have snow globe with a little Anthony Gromley figure in it, bought from his exhibition White Light at the Hayward. It's may not be a one-off piece but it's really sweet.

Apart from money people are also afraid of starting a collection for one more reason - they often believe that you need to be specialist to understand art. Your book by giving the tools to the taste navigation, shows that it is possible to learn to understand practices of the art world and know what to look for. Or is anyway collecting gene needed?

The funny thing about building a collection, and actually this is a point which every single collector I talked to in the book said, is that they didn't initially approach buying art in terms of building collection. Just buy individual pieces that you love - this is the main initial step. After a while then take a step back and notice the patterns, trends, themes. Use your own collection as a kind of springboard from which to focus your buying in the future. Jo Varney, one of the collectors I spoke to in the book, she re-hangs her collection every six months or so. It's a great idea as when you re-hang your pictures, the pieces bring out new qualities in each other. Then you can start to see new patterns in your own collection.

Collecting is a very stimulating experience also because it's in a way experimental. You write about "listening to your own taste barometer" - when is building one's confidence as a collector done?

In a way you never have total confidence and that's part of the excitement - not being entirely sure the whole time. It's always a kind of adventure, every time you buy something new, you're doing something different, experimenting. Confidence in the process of buying is a good foundation to have, but every time you think about buying a new piece it's a frightening, exhilarating entirely new experience. Will it work in my home? Will I like it after 6 months? Will it go with my other works? Will it have been a worthwhile purchase. The joy of contemporary art is it is exiting and constantly changing , you cannot look at it as a whole that is complete it in the way that you can do with an art movement in the past. And so there is always opportunity to take risks as the jury is still out so to speak, you can have fun and discover something different.

Affordable Contemporary Art

It is demanding role to be a collector, I mean you need to stay informed, keep an eye on new shows, artists' careers, watch art with critical eye, not just follow the trends. Is there any label like the "real" or "good" collector?

I think that's very subjective thing. When you look around, the international art collections differ. There can be one that makes you just think I love his or her eye, the risks they take or the way they support emerging artists (or whatever) and in the case of others you'll have a difference of taste. There is no right and wrong, good or bad. I think it's arguably perhaps a good thing to have an eye on young art - graduate shows and emerging artists. There is a definite excitement in discovering someone new.

Let's talk about the shape of the collection, which as you write remains a valid consideration. It's true that finding the perfect idea for the collection is essential . What should be the first step to make one's collection coherent, individual and interesting in the same time?

That's something that I touched upon earlier - buy individual pieces simply that you like to start off with and when you have a few then step back to look at the collection as a whole and notice the patterns and themes within it (could be say, stylistic, or artists from particular area), which have grown naturally but which simply have to be recognized, and then try to develop them. Once you have an idea about your tastes, and what you are drawn to, then when you see a new piece that might develop the collection and fit really well that's exciting. There is also something thrilling about a quest element, knowing what kind of thing you are on the look out for, and that will fit really well within your collection, or conversely, a piece which might take the collection in a whole new direction.

Any must - have or it's more about personal must-have?

I don't think there is anything like 'must -have' , it annoys me as a term. There is only your personal 'must have': if you see something you fall in love head over hills and you absolutely cannot leave the art fair or gallery without that picture, which you'll do anything just so you can have it. No one can tell you that something is a must - have. You have to decide on your own if it's must - have for you. The other thing which I find interesting, is that sometimes your relationship with a work of art is love from the first sight, but I sometimes works are much slower to inspire your affection. Sometimes you go around art fair and you see immediately something you like and the other time you notice a piece and it nibbles in the back of your mind and you go back to it, because there is something about the picture and you don't know what it is, but you keep thinking about it. Sometimes you can overlook things and they are the most special ones. It's like that track that you heard on the radio and you liked it so much that you bought the CD. But then, after you listen to tracks on the album several times , you discover that there is another one that you skipped couple of times and after that is your favorite one. I definitely have pieces of art that I bought because of love from the first sight, while in the same time there are some pieces that I finally loved more than that first one - one which took several listens before you saw how wonderful it was. For my 30th birthday my cousin really wanted to get me a present and I persuaded her, because I really wanted to have a Polly Morgan picture, which is a hand holding what looks like a bunch of flowers, while in fact it's the bunch of the little heads of dead chicks. It's tricky and strange and weird. Not at all chocolate boxy! My cousin wasn't that enthusiastic about it, as this is not her taste. I remember her telling me - ‘are you sure you want this or you would prefer a handbag?' And I said ‘no, I really want that picture'. I have it in my flat, just above my dining table and every time I look at it, I like it a little bit more. It's unsettling, sort of strange, but I like it more than some of my other pieces which are perhaps 'easier'.

So collector should be always art lover, not an investor?

Definitely, you should be able to say "I really believe in this artist". If you buy something you love, at the very least, you're going to have piece you love for the rest of your life. And if you collect just for investment and it doesn't work out, then you will just lose your money. Besides, appreciating things is an emotional experience. Of course you have to think about financial aspects and budget because it is an investment. But I believe you can also combine it. But investing in art for financial reasons alone, if you don't love art, means all the 're-search', i.e. going to galleries and fairs become hugely boring, rather than fun. It's such a shame and a massive waste of time investing money only, with no emotion. And besides, investing in something else would be much safer as art world is so unpredictable.

Becoming an art collector means becoming a member of contemporary art community. Financial commitment in creating public collections, like memberships, donations systems, institutions like Art Fund, is common in UK . What are the benefits?

I admire The contemporary art society, which has events up and down the country. They arrange private tours of exhibitions, take members to artists' studios, and hold talks and workshops and advise on collecting. You can meet likeminded individuals and exchange ideas. There is such an interest in art in the media, the art world makes business headlines, society headlines, culture headlines - it's incredibly glamorous and exciting. And being part of an art society enables members to become part of that art community. Going to art events (from fairs to private views) is really fun, even if you don't buy anything. Art is something people want to be absolutely and totally engaged with and understand more about.

Affordable Contemporary Art

Is it a matter of education?

I think the media plays a big role. Maybe it is superficial, but there is evidently a kind of glamour that comes through the media about art world and its characters. Here the YBA scene played a big role in popularising and promoting contemporary art. It was (and is) seen as being rebellious, exciting, crazy, experimental, dangerous, wild.

Here we come back to the role of the collector, YBA wouldn't maybe have such a big impact without effective promoter.

Saatchi's role is obviously huge - putting his private collection on display and his continued investment in young , experimental artists. If somebody wealthy and influential starts doing something, people start to pay attention. But now it's reached the point where Saatchi doesn't really take risks as his choices have so much influence - when people know that Saatchi has bought somebody's work, people automatically want to have it in their collection as well.

But in the same time gallery people say that the crisis changed the attitude to buying, it's not anymore only about hot names. Collectors still buy new pieces, but they take much more time on decisions.

That's definitely important point for more modest collectors as well - absolutely take your time and think why you like something, whether it is something you are going to like for a really long time and if you are in any kind of dialogue with the piece or it was just a matter of being eye catching. And also ask the galleries questions - what's the artists story, how was the work produced, if you can meet the artists, where are they from, is it typical for their style, what kind of inspirations they have, in which techniques they create etc. All that enriches the process of buying and part of that is just taking time - for asking questions, for thinking, looking at the piece. It's illuminating to explore why you like things and can bring so many new perspectives for further searching for new art pieces.

Participating in art events means also Art Fairs. The biggest like Frieze or Art Basel can be intimidating for starters and people with more modest budgets. But there are many smaller and satellite fairs gathering emerging galleries and art on budget. Which would you recommend?

I guess The Volta or Liste, but I actually think that again it is a matter of checking of which fairs are accessible and perfect for you. There are different elements to each of them, you just need to find your own way. It's about your own taste and what you are looking for - you might love one event and hate the other. You may decide that you participate in fairs where the prices are not more than £5,000 or choose the one where the artists have their own stands, then you can go to the fairs and talk to the artists. Maybe you would like to check only emerging artists and galleries, where everything will be experimental, young and new. It depends on what kind of art you want to see. Try everything to decide, read fair reports in magazines and online, visit events and you will get the idea.

There is also very interesting initiative which is Affordable Art Fair..

What is interesting for a start about these fairs is that they have a set of rules, all prices are displayed for instance, works have to be under a certain price. Sometimes it can be very intimidating when you visit a gallery or a stand and you have no idea what can be the price - 500 pounds or 50 pounds. During Affordable Art Fair you know exactly where you are. Accessibility of the price and art in general a major consideration and everyone is incredibly friendly. They have lots of talks to help you and everything is unpretentious, informative. They even prepare a glossary of tricky art terms for visitors - sometimes it can be very confusing to talk in details about art and not know what words actually mean . Although the fairs receive mixed reactions, art world can be quite snobby, there's a lot to recommend them for a certain type of art enthusiast - one who can find the art world intimidating.

It's the same with the term ‘affordable art', it is seen as diminishing art. But we can find in your book many examples of really interesting art pieces for very reasonable price.

You can purchase really amazing pieces for not huge amount of money. Obviously ‘affordable' is subjective term but it's the fact that you can buy pieces which cost less than a pair of shoes.

One of your tips is to push beyond the boundaries of the comfortable in order to develop tastes, which is a vital part of growing as a collector - but how to do it, not feeling overwhelmed by the art world?

That comes back again to the thing I touched before, which is: don't always go for the obvious. It is like with the Polly Morgan piece I mentioned earlier - sometimes you need more time to look at things to find them trickier. . And also don't be afraid to take risks on emerging artists and take personal risks - play with your taste. Even if you think that something is not exactly what you would go for, maybe just do it and take the risk to push the boundary. As long as you buy pieces within your budget, it will never be a huge disaster, but always a valuable lesson. That keeps things exciting and fresh. Maybe simply buy a sculpture if you always buy paintings and check how it works with other pieces in your collection. You might discover you absolutely love it, while you would never thought about it before. In the end it may change the shape or the direction of your collection.


"Collecting opens up other perspectives on your surroundings you, sharpens your senses, helps you to better understand both yourself and others. It creates links with other people, other cultures, other visions of the world. And it is a veritable fountain of youth" - as Samuel Keller wrote in the foreword do the book titled "Global collectors" concluding his text with Ernst Beyeler words: "Being surrounded by art, that's true wealth". Beatrice Hodgkin - the author of "Affordable contemporary art" (Vivays Publishing, 2011) created a guide to buying and collecting contemporary art, proving that you don't have to be zillionaire to enjoy creating and owning art collection. Hodgkin analyzes how to immerse oneself in the art world step by step - where to find and buy art, what to look for, how to get connected and navigate your taste and finally how to understand the financial mechanisms. The book features also art fair diary and introduces few collector's stories. "Affordable contemporary art" is an inspirational invitation to quest, discover pieces by contemporary artists and enjoy art, as it is simply affordable. The book will be promoted during Affordable Art Fair in London (October 2011). /

Affordable Contemporary Art