Friday, December 4, 2009

Bringing Art Collecting to the Masses

by Robert Boyd

Everyone knows that part of the missions of museums, 1% for art programs, etc., is to bring art to ordinary people. And they do a great job. But sometimes folks want to own art, and they just can't afford it--at least not in the usual "walk into a gallery and plunk down $1000s for a piece of art" way. So how can an ordinary Joe buy some art? In the U.K., they came up with a truly weird program to enable that ordinary Joe to get him some art!
Set up in 2004 by the Arts Council, Own Art enables people to take home a piece of contemporary art straight way but then pay for it in 10 monthly interest-free instalments, borrowing anything up to £2,000. So far the scheme has made over 14,500 loans to purchase art valued in excess of £11.6 million. “It’s a simple idea that works for artists, buyers and galleries,” says Mary-Alice Stack, development manager for Own Art. “From farmers to policemen, students to pensioners, we’re making it possible for everyone to buy original art for their homes.” ("Buying Art in Interest Free Instalments", Zoe Slater,, 11-28-2009)
What a great idea! Here's an amazing collector--David Pike, a pig farmer who lives in a tiny mobile home.

“I’ve bought about ten pieces of art over the last ten years, six or seven through the scheme. Two are in the caravan but a friend has the rest as they don’t actually fit in here. He displays them for me at his house and I go and see them most days. The two in the caravan are by Houson and Paul Denham.
“[...] My favourite piece is a Houson called Severus. It is a strong, strong painting that has a real resonance with me as it depicts a working man who is deep in thought. It shows how working men can still be intellectual and capable of deep thought, which I like because although I do manual labour, I’m an intellectual.
“I don’t really go on holidays, partly because it’s hard to find someone to take care of all the animals, but also because I’d rather buy a piece of art. Buying art is still a luxury although the scheme does make it easier. I like buying work from local artists since I feel more of a connection with them."
At first, one's reaction is "pig farmer in a mobile home who collects art"="wacky news story of the day". But as a collector myself, I was very moved by his account. You hear about people like Dorothy and Herbert Vogel, and they are amazing and all, but it's impossible to totally relate. Their collecting is just too extreme to be a followable example for others. But David Pike? His collection is modest but meaningful to him. Almost anyone could do what he does--if they had a financing program like Own Art.

Obviously there is no way such a art-financing scheme would ever be set up by any government body in Texas. It's just too far out for us. But I could see a non-profit doing it. Anyone out there interested?

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