Adam Lindemann’s second foray into authorship, and driven by his experience and passion for collecting, Collecting Contemporary Art seeks to provide the reader with a comprehensive look into every nook and cranny of the contemporary art market; from explaining the “ABC’s” of buying art in primary and secondary markets, auctions, and art fairs, as well as providing an overview of the world art scene and its social circles. Aside from its general introduction into all aspects of the contemporary art market, the book’s main body is comprised by a series of interviews made with individuals that Lindemann has singled out as the biggest players in the global art market. Each of the 40 interviews can be found within one of seven categories Lindemann has devised based on the role of the interviewee: The Artist (p 22), The Art Critic (p 24-26), The Art Dealer (p 30-118), The Art Consultant (p 122-148), The collector (p 152-212), The Auction House Expert (p 218-232) and The Museum Professional: Directors and Curators (p 238-266). Rounding up the book is a section called “More Useful Information”, meant to address the several dilemmas that will be faced by the reader in his role of “new collector”. The last section covers essential and practical information, such as explaining the difference between an art gallery, the auction house and the art fair; a calendar detailing the art world’s most important annual events, a glossary of terms, and a list of essential magazines and websites.
This collection of essays addresses both the conceptual and practical challenges facing museum collections in the twenty first century. Authors wrestle with reconciling contemporary acquisitions into permanent collections, considering the ongoing challenge of determining just what ‘contemporary’ art is. Questions arise such as when is contemporary; is it best to collect only living artists; established artists? The permanent collections of contemporary art embodies a paradox, argues Jeffrey Weiss of the National Gallery of Art (Washington D.C.), as the older ‘contemporary’ art is pushed further into history and the collection of new art (of the present) is historicised by the identity of the museum ‘undeniably confers instant pastness onto present art.’ Other essays in the book address traditional narratives of encyclopaedic collections that are threatened by globalised trends of contemporary art that potentially rupture the established categories. Likewise, curators reconsider out-dated treatment of minority artists within collections which have been mistreated or misunderstood by past curatorial methodologies. One of the most practical concerns facing museums collecting contemporary art is new media, which can too quickly become old media. Technological restraints or poor understanding of technical art prevents the adequate collection of ‘new media’ art. Several curators outline their approach to collecting, displaying and conserving media art such as film, internet and other digital art.
Commissioning Contemporary Art is a well-constructed how-to describing the incredibly varied and often problematic practice of commissioning. Co-written by art critic Louisa Buck and art lawyer Daniel McClean, the handbook combines their areas of expertise and incorporates opinions and experiences from a diverse range of industry experts; including artists, curators, and museum directors such as Hans Ulrich Obrist, Sir Nicolas Serota, and Christine Van Assche. Commissions are a complex practice and therefore can incur high risks. In this handbook, Buck and McClean cite many examples of commissions, set up a step-by-step guide and include encompassing perspectives from all concerned parties. They not only explicate the distinct aspects in great detail, but they also discuss the motivation and tradition behind commissioning practice. From beginning to end, the handbook offers valuable insight and advice to any artist, curator or collector who wishes to be involved in the creation of new art through the popular practice of commissioning.
Buskirk examines the globalised contemporary art world of the twenty-first century and describes it as a veritable arts industry. The role of the artist and the curator has become professionalised, she suggests. Art production is challenged by its own ‘corrosive success,’ and it is difficult she explains, to distinguish the marketing and promotion, which can establish artists as brands, from the genuinely radical or subversive practices. Despite its commercial success, Buskirk identifies the contradiction when art still claims to be exceptional. Closely scrutinising art institutions reveals their expanded role as entertainer and spectacle-maker that complicates its dedication to education. She describes the generative practice of these institutions as ‘museum production’ as they increasingly encourage artists to create art within the walls of the museum. This may be achieved by a variety of practices; producing exhibitions, re-imagining collection displays, or producing a commissioned artwork for display. Using numerous examples of artworks, installations, exhibitions and spectacles, Buskirk illuminates the blurring lines between established art roles and practices. She not only explores trends of contemporary curating, collecting, and creative practices, but also offers a critical perspective and places it within historical context.
Deep Storage: Collecting, Storing, and Archiving in Art, edited by Ingrid Schaffner and Matthais Winzen, was published in 1998 in conjunction with the exhibition of the same name at MoMA PS1 and the Henry Art Gallery in Seattle. While storage and archiving remain practical and logistical issues for contemporary art collections, this book addresses how these acts became part of artistic practice in the twentieth century. Shaffner and Winzen compile a number of brief entries, organised alphabetically by artist or theme, giving the book the appearance of an archival index. In these entries, twenty-five authors write about more than forty artists and topics including ‘cyberspace,’ ‘Rauschenberg,’ and ‘Warhol’ to illustrate how acts of collecting and storing have become artistic processes and endeavours, more than means to preserve traditional artworks. These examples range from material collecting to digital storage and electronic media. Each example encourages the reconsideration of what constitutes art and artistic practice in a contemporary context.
Published in 1998, Suzanne Keene’s book Digital Collections addresses the impact that the developing Information Age might have on the museum industry. Most significantly, Keene recognises the potential of the World Wide Web to transform it. ‘We used to build collections of objects,’ says Keene, ‘now we can make collections of information, too.’ It is easy to see the evidence of her prediction that digital collections are of huge importance to museums. In fact, it is near impossible to justify not having a web presence these days—not being present on the web renders an institution nearly invisible. Although the museum standard software and equipment that she explains and advocates for is now out-dated, her insightful theory about building digital collections of information is still relevant. Many museums today are struggling to keep up and to make their collections available through technology, but more and more of these institutions are recognising the value of ‘virtual visitors’. Keene suggests that digital access to collections provides less inhibited access to the actual collection and the information that is usually obscured by being in storage where it is recorded on index cards and records, and only mediated via the caretaker in charge of the collection. Ultimately, Keene explains that digitizing these records makes the collection more accessible to a wider audience, and thus, more useful.
Ferguson suggests that while art objects and art institutions have been regularly examined and critiqued within contemporary critical enquiry, the practices and effects of exhibition-making have remained mostly invisible. And yet, they are crucial to an understanding of the politics of representation in our culture, and indeed central to our understanding of contemporary art.
The ‘cultural industries’ identified by Adorno and Horkheimer, can now be seen as part of the broader ‘consciousness industries’ (characterized by Hans Enzberger to include advertising, education and ‘infotainment’) and these are contemporary forms, Ferguson suggests, of traditional rhetoric. Every element of an exhibition has a strategic function, with political, psychological, ideological, socio-historical and structural ramifications.
Ferguson argues that all exhibitionary procedures – from labels to lighting - are part of the exhibition’s ‘active recitation.’ The institution operates from within a network of influences, and its unconscious ‘desires’ are unintentionally communicated. Ferguson speculates, with deliberate anthropomorphism, that the exhibition can be seen as “the material speech of an essentially political institution”. “The building, its agents and its projects combine to produce what might be called a character – the speaking and performing body by which it is known and judged, seen and heard.”
The key question for Ferguson’s essentially post-structural analysis is the extent to which exhibitions resist an illusory ‘affirmative narrative’ and admit to their institution’s complex multiplicities and contradictions. “Otherwise the exhibition as a speech performance, will remain a loud monologue followed by a long silence […]”
Heinich and Pollak begin by outlining the manner in which the professional position of curator has changed over its history. Whereas curators historically were charged primarily with safeguarding artifacts collected by cultural institutions, curators nowadays must not only enrich cultural heritage—largely through the purchasing of contemporary art—but also bring it to the public. Particular emphasis today is placed on the importance of connecting with people who have no special knowledge or experience with art. Accordingly, exhibitions have also changed from in the past having been displays of a particular collection to now predominantly being thematised shows that are conceived around an artist, movement or idea and that contain works owned by multiple different collecting bodies. Curators, like the group of artworks they assemble, are thus oftentimes not affiliated specifically with one institution but rather act more autonomously and authoritatively than they have in the past. Heinich and Pollak compare the curator-as-author to cinema’s concept of an auteur, a monolithic figure who carries out a multiplicity of tasks and operates as a singular name rather than as an institutional representative. This ‘autonomisation’ of the curator has been somewhat paradoxically accompanied by a de-professionalisation of the role that has permitted a wider understanding of who can be a curator.
In Museum Skepticism, David Carrier explores both the development and what he argues to be the decline of the public art museum as a democratic institution. Carrier shows that by studying the history of museums and collecting we can understand the transformative point at which the art museum has now arrived; the public art museum has to reinvent itself in order to stay relevant to contemporary life and by extension to its visitors. Carrier argues that this reinvention should be inspired by popular or mass culture, as this is what nowadays attracts and interests the majority of people.
By looking at key figures in various fields of the museum world, such as collectors, curators and museum architects, Carrier shows that the public museum is something to be interpreted and studied instead of simply being taken as a container for high art. The book includes several case studies of important figures in the history of collection and display - such as Baron Dominique vivant Denon, the 1st director of the Louvre, Bernard Berenson who was Isabella Gardner’s art adviser and helped her to establish her collection and Richard Meier, the architect of the J. Paul Getty Museum - which show that all these various roles within the art world have had a tremendous impact on how museums and collections have developed, and how we currently view the art museum and its need for transformation.
Comprised of ten essays, New Collecting addresses many of the issues and opportunities raised by the collection of ‘new media art’ with a particular emphasis on computer and internet- based artwork. This type of art demands not only a revision of a museum’s collecting procedure but a reevaluation of what it means to collect. Such a situation is not without precedent. Several of the articles allude to instances in art history that have demanded a similar reevaluation of institutional procedures. Of course, the issues raised specifically by computer-based art are constantly evolving in tandem with technology, thus denying the implementation of a uniform collecting procedure. However, at a more general level, a two-tiered approach which includes both a physical collection and a digital archive has proven to be an effective model for accommodating the specific demands and risks of technologically-engaged new media art. This type of collecting both limits the risk associated with collecting new media art for the institution and preserves the integrity of the art which often considers democratic access to be an essential component. New Collecting demonstrates how expanding the role of the museum from a purely “collecting institution” to that of a “circulating institution” allows the museum to evolve in conjunction with the art it collects to better suit the needs of a 21st century audience.
Kaiser notes a number of potential problems that may arise between donors and collection agencies and offers solutions to overcome them. These include the varying motivations for gifting and the expectations donors have of the institutions.
Kaiser recommends that the collection agency emphasises the importance of keeping a collection together and manages the gifting of items at regular intervals. To avoid potential problems they should clearly outline their collecting policy and what services they can provide to donors from the outset and avoid making special commitments that they cannot facilitate. Kaiser argues that a degree of flexibility and engaging the donor’s interest is required to sustain a lasting, productive relationship.
Tax deduction is a motivation for gifting that has benefited institutions in that it encourages donations, prevents people discarding items or selling to private dealers. However it can also be a hindrance as some items that have ‘autograph value’ may not necessarily be of value to a research collection. In addition tax deadlines can see an influx of donations, so it is important this is managed.
Kaiser notes that a donor’s relationship to the materials is subjective: on one hand they can offer insight into the contents, on the other they may be reluctant to donate items that contain sensitive information (i.e. recent events, confidential or possibly embarrassing details about the living). Although an institution aims to make items available for research, usually a compromise of imposing a restriction with a timescale is the most practical solution, although it does mean the gift is not tax deductible. Donors are also able to retain literary rights to their work, which offers peace of mind that it will be protected against unauthorised use, and retain tax-deductible status.
In this collection of essays, Richard Rinehart and John Ippolito raise various technical and philosophical questions regarding the feasibility of preserving new media art in the long-term. Bringing to the fore the institutional, practical and lawful “triple-threat” that is giving rise to “the death of contemporary culture”, the writers discuss a wide range of issues that are enabling the deterioration of new media and installation art in archives and collections today, and thus obstructing the capacity for future generations to appreciate these works. In the face of the rapid obsolescence of formats and softwares that are relied upon by much video and virtual art, Rinehart and Ippolito suggest a radical reassessment of conventional preservation methods, throwing away with default old media storage strategies in favour of audio-visual emulation and hardware migration. Similarly, they examine how legislation surrounding intellectual property and copyright may simultaneously aid and impede access to online art forms in a world seemingly governed by social media and the ‘sharing’ of content. Perhaps most prominently however, the main concerns of this publication are the implications for “social memory” that these practical issues raise. In centuries to come, what will be said for the art of today if contemporary culture refuses to safeguard against its own destruction? It is therefore imperative that the documents of our digital age remain intact, with these institutional revisions ultimately being presented as crucial moral responsibilities for contemporary art collections of the twenty first century.
‘Saving Art for the Nation’ is a compilation of addresses, discussions and case studies from the 2003 Centenary Conference of the National Art Collections Fund; contributing voices include Sir Nicolas Serota (Tate London), Sir Timothy Clifford (National Galleries Scotland), Dr David Fleming (National Museum Liverpool) and a variety of museum professionals and interested parties. The most significant concern of the conference was to instigate ongoing collecting, after all, ‘a closed collection is a dead collection,’ especially focusing on the acquisition of contemporary art and international art—a weak point among many of the national collections. In fact, a growing appreciation for ‘global culture’ is present among many of the conference addresses. This is evidenced not only by relaxing attempts to keep pieces of heritage within the UK but also encouraging its display in other parts of the world and in new contexts. The conference also considered the vestiges of patriotism and heritage that surrounds national collections and encouraged institutions to challenge complacent notions of ‘Britishness’. These sentiments ultimately shifted the institutional responsibility towards its public audience and the ways that a collection should express the identity of a community.
‘What’s Next?’ capitalises on the centenary moment of the Contemporary Art Society as a chance to reflect on its productive history of patronising public art collections but also as impetus to adapt and consider better practice for the future. The CAS exists to raise funds to purchase art for public collections and has done so since 1910. A reflection by the two directors highlights the importance of their audience to this activity, this audience who supports the collections via donations, bequests, friends groups and societies. A sample of this audience is featured in a conversation about the current challenges and ambitions facing them as supporters of fine arts in today’s economy where a global recession and cutbacks to national spending have curbed the growth of the UK’s national collections. ‘What’s Next?’ summarises the yearlong programme of centenary activity throughout their member institutions, outlines their Centenary Fellowship Programme, and displays images and conversations from artists included in their anniversary year activity. Arising from the conversations and essays in this text is the ambition to improve networks between patrons, curators and artists. Director Lucy Byatt speaks of the reliance of these national collections on relationships, and through them the possibility of encouraging the development of curatorial knowledge.