Buying and owning art can bring both pleasure and profit, and you don’t need stacks of cash to get started. We begin our guide with some tips from an established collector and a prominent gallery owner Interviews: David Pollock
HUGO BROWN Collector, originally from Partick, now based between Glasgow and Holland SUSANNA BEAUMONT Director of doggerfisher gallery, based in Edinburgh
I know almost every major collector in the world, and I’m sure any one of them would tell you that doing this is a sickness, an addiction. I bought my first major piece almost 30 years ago when I lived in the Hague. They were just changing over from black and white to colour televisions, but I decided to use the money I’d saved for one to buy a painting instead. The artist I chose went on to win a prize as the best up-and-coming painter in mainland Europe that very Saturday, so obviously after that you think you’ve got an eye for these things. At first, I bought quite a lot of pop art before it really went up in value – not major works, things like Warhol multiples – but when these became very famous and much more expensive I started collecting younger artists instead. It then becomes more exciting to watch them develop and go on to major shows of their own.
My collection is called COBRA to Contemporary because I’m a big fan of the post-war COBRA art movement, particularly Karel Appel, and of the contemporary art scene. I think what has held British art back a lot, though, is the YBA thing. There’s still too much media interest in people like Damien Hirst and not enough in younger artists and European artists. I gave a talk at the Whitechapel Gallery, of which I’m a benefactor, and right after it a chap from Sotheby’s got up and told us of a piece he’d sold for £4m, telling us, ‘This is the contemporary art world.’ We disagreed with him strongly, of course. The contemporary art world revolves around the major international shows, of which Basle is the biggest. Then there’s Art Miami, Frieze in London, Cologne, Berlin . . . I’d advise anyone who’s seriously interested to travel to these if they can, because they represent a much fairer reflection of how contemporary art is priced than any auction. Those with a modest amount could do worse than heading to Glasgow Print Studio or Edinburgh Printmakers – if you have £1000, you could probably come away with 20 nice pieces, rather than just one.
I’m not a great fan of the term ‘affordable art’, because it suggests a lot of art is unaffordable. It adds to a perception of exclusivity that exists around buying art, when in fact instalment schemes like the Scottish Art Council’s Own Art make it easier than ever to do. Of course, buying art is still a big commitment, but a very exciting thing to be doing. To anyone who wants to start a collection, I would say you begin by doing lots of looking. Look in galleries and at websites. Follow your tastes and find out more about what interests you. Research artists whose work you like, read books about them, ask galleries to show you more work.
Art is a visual medium, and you should allow yourself to be intrigued by it, whether you find it beautiful or disturbing. Look at how it’s made, the marks on the paper, what it’s made of if it’s a sculpture, and eventually your eye will become trained to what you like. Degree shows are a good place to start. You can meet new artists and then possibly be invited along to their studio. It’s possible to collect via the internet these days, but there’s nothing like getting out and seeing works. And you shouldn’t just be looking at works you might be able to purchase. Go to the National Gallery, the Galleries of Modern Art, Kelvingrove, go to GI and see what’s there. Develop your tastes.
Of course, art will always be treated as a lifestyle accessory by some very rich people, and fine if they want to do that. Just as long as people who don’t have vast wealth realise that owning art is nothing to do with ostentation. It’s like anything, you have to trust in what you believe in, you have to have your own opinions and be confident in them. I have works at home that I can look at one day and see one thing, and look at another day and see something very different. These are works that keep revealing more about themselves and exciting the eye. Art is someone’s response to the world, to a certain situation, and it should set off emotion in you when you look at it.
29 Apr–13 May 2010 THE LIST 15