What is the future of collecting?


Palais de Tokyo. Photo by Maciej Zgadzaj

“What is the future of collecting?”: this was the question on everyone’s lips at the discussion panel held at Paris’ Musée d’Art Modern on Friday 6 March. Conservators, collectors, and curators were present at the meeting, in addition to a number of artists, who today more than ever play an integral role in the collection process, and contribute to creating vibrant, dynamic, and well-thought out collections. As artistic practices continue to break away from traditional media, becoming increasingly abstract and conceptual, collectors, whether private or institutional, are faced with the challenge of accommodating the changing face of contemporary art. As Bernard Blistène commented, it’s the evolutions in the field of artistic production that drive the changes in collecting.

Rather than providing concrete answers to these questions, the meeting, which was organised by Bérengère de Thonel d’Orgeix, saw new suggestions and ideas raised by attendees. AMA presents a selection of the contributions by director of the Biennale de Paris, Alexandre Gurita; director of the Frac Lorraine, and the Metz Fonds Régional d’Art Contemporain, Béatrice Josse; collector and art critic Ghislain Mollet-Viéville; and the artist Jean-Baptiste Farkas, among others.

Conserving without “stockpiling”
At the heart of the discussion was the question of choice; who should determine the direction of future collections, and which practices exactly should we focus on? According to Alexandre Gurita, who advocates an “invisible art” that challenges the artistic orthodoxy by situating itself in the context of everyday life, it should be art that demands effort, “art that goes beyond the work”, whilst, in the words of Bernard Blistène, we should focus on art that “allows for a continual questioning of contemporary artistic practices”. Questioning the notions of material reality, access, and the role of the collector, the discussion centred around a critical interrogation of contemporary artistic practices, whether “urban actions”, “performative environments”, “official works”, “experiments”, “artistic utterances”, or even “services”, as in the case of Jean-Baptiste Farkas, whose IKHÉA©SERVICES project invites participants to systematically de stroy and damage objects following the instructions of a printed manual. Farkas also advocates doing away with structures once considered essential to the art world: “I believe that […] the exhibition is an out-dated format for showcasing art, and that we must turn to other actions such as operations and manoeuvres.”

It would seem, then, that these various ideas position themselves firmly in opposition to the principle of “collecting”, which is deeply entrenched in Western culture. Journalist and art critic Heinz-Norbert Jocks moved the discussion away from our own culture, commenting on the Chinese approach to collecting. According to him, the perspective of Chinese collectors differs fundamentally from the Western model, which is geared towards leaving one’s mark on the future, whilst in China “collectors do not focus on the eternal, but rather collect for the present.” Alexandre Gurita went on to speak about the idea of “uncollecting”, whilst Ghislain Mollet-Viéville, a minimal art enthusiast, advocated art that rejects the fetishisation of objects, and, underlining the social aspect of art, artworks that define themselves in terms of their social qualities. Emma Mc Cormick-Goodhart agreed, adding that in her work she aims to demonstrate the expressive potential of orality in art, as in her 2014 exhibition of “oral” works that took place at Villa Arson.

Through these radical approaches to artistic creation, artists play a central role in the discourse around the future of collecting, inviting collectors to react and adapt to their ideas and perspective, and ultimately forcing them to reassess their attachment to precious artworks and objects, to prioritise experimentation, and to turn their attention to more temporary works. In the contemporary art landscape of today, it would seem that we can no longer conserve everything; some artworks, like a handful of their 20th-century predecessors, come complete with a built-in sell-by date or lifespan. If we look at the kinds of discussions that were taking place in the 1970s, and their focus on subversive art that operated outside the institutions, we can see that this same discourse has now become engrained in the fabric of the institutions themselves.

A rich and dynamic collection, defined by its absences
How do we resolve the inherent paradox involved in collecting art that, out of the choice of the artist, either “refuses to appear” or even is, in its very essence, destined to disappear? This crucial question was implicitly raised via Jacques Salomon’s three missions as a collector: “to activate, to present, and to prolong”. Yet this “prolonging” does not mean that a work must be preserved indefinitely as an immutable form, expressing a single, unchanging idea; there are hosts of innovative new approaches to collecting, including even buying works that have not yet been created, as in the case of Philippe Thomas’ 1988 Pétition de principe.

As such, Bernard Blistène’s remark on the subject of the contents of a collection was particularly resonant; Blistène underlined that a collection can be valuable as much for what it omits as what it includes, through breaks and impasses at certain points in its history, reflecting the direction and desire of its collector and of those who interpret it. To prolong such works, one possible solution is to exhibit it to as many people as possible, since the notions of reproducibility and dialogue are an integral part of the work of many contemporary artists. A clear example of this is Mario García Torres’ karaoke work, entitled Sing Like Baldessari (Freestyle) (2004), in which he invites participants to sing Sol LeWitt’s 35 Sentences on Conceptual Art in the style of conceptual artist John Baldessari. Moreover, the most transient and intangible works are at their most powerful when t hey are viewed alongside the type of monumental works that refuse to disappear, which, in one sense, represent the other side of contemporary creation.

Alongside the lively theoretical debate, however, the meeting did not lose sight of the more pragmatic concerns that often play an important role in the operating of public institutions, taking into account the constant budget cuts to which such organisations are subject. Amongst the most important of the more practical issues raised were the questions of free access to art, of the production of free works of art, and also the importance of representing a diverse range of artists, all in the hope of further transforming the art world into an open accessible space free of prejudices and preconceptions.


Photo by Maciej Zgadzaj ‘Palais de Tokyo’ used under creative commons license