Readers of old will know that I have long had an aversion to opening nights at a gallery. My historical aversion has been swayed by the fact that opening nights are social evenings when the community comes out to support the artist and to socialize with one another. And, if you want to meet the artist or buy a piece, you need to be at the opening night to ensure you don’t miss out. I have had a lot of fun, met some great people and even managed to buy a couple of pieces at opening nights this year. But my aversion has typically been twofold and the issue remains: I don’t like to go to a gallery and not be able to see the artwork for all the patrons drinking free wine and beer, and I am not always sure that it is always a good idea to meet the artist.
That said, I have never met an artist at an opening that I did not like. However, there have been two artists in my life in the past year from whom I am now glad I never bought a piece of their work. In both cases, they were male photographers.
I am not a collector for investment. I collect what I like and what I can afford.
Yes, I like Egon Schiele, Richard Gertsl, Giacometti, Vermeer, Georgia O’Keefe, Breughel, Annie Liebovitz, Caravaggio and Joan Miro (amongst others) but unless I win the Euro Millions several times, I will never own an original piece of their work. Every year, I travel to Vienna to see Richard Gertsl’s blue nude self portrait and I have travelled across Europe to see the collection of Caravaggio available to the public. And that is about as close as my relationship to those pieces of art will ever get. And so, I delight in befriending painters and if I ever find someone who wants to talk turn of the century Austrian expressionism, or chiaroscuro and the use of light in renaissance art, I will be in heaven.
As for what I can afford: I buy very moderately priced paintings. I have only bought pieces from artists at the start of their careers because it’s the only time I’m likely to ever be able to afford a piece of their work and that’s when you’re most likely to meet them and get to know them, and when buying their work is most likely to mean the difference to their being able to pay the bills or not. I think it is exciting to meet an artist early in their career and be able to see their work change and evolve as they experiment and find their unique vision and style.
I buy what I like. Some of what I like is simply a matter of taste – and my tastes have changed with time. Until 2010 and my visit to the Bauhaus archiv (Museum of Design) in Berlin, I never cared for, or understood modern art. Now my taste is predominantly modern, contemporary and urban which makes it possible for me to begin collecting art.
Yet some of what I like, I like, at least partly, because of the association of the art piece with the artist or with a specific event. I have a piece that I bought long ago – it is a line drawing with text. I will always love it because when I saw it in the gallery – much to my surprise – it made me cry bittersweet tears. It was, as far as I can recall, my first art purchase. And just to lay false the claim I made above, I believe that piece was bought some time around 1990, twenty years before I evolved to like the wider era and canon of modern and contemporary art to which my first piece belonged.
It wasn’t until 25 years after I bought that piece that I came to interact with the artist online. He came across as a lovely and kind-hearted soul with a real sensitivity that reflected the sensibility that had touched me so deeply all those years ago. It was a risky encounter which could have sullied my relationship with a beloved piece of work. I am grateful that it did not.
I have since learned that while an artist’s personality cannot turn my taste toward their artwork, it can make it more meaningful and endow a piece with more emotional content. So, while I can love a piece more because of how much I care for the artist who created the piece, likewise, if the artist turns out to be someone who hurts me and is someone I find repugnant, I will never want to have a piece of their work polluting the energy of my space.
Today I came across a piece of art that was a collaboration with a photo by “The Photographer.” You will remember that he was a man in my life last summer who started out charming me and ended up being belligerent to me. I ended things one afternoon in South London late last summer and blocked him on all forms of social media.
He is a decent photographer but looking at his photos is disturbing. He seems to focus on shooting women that appear vulnerable to being preyed upon. Every woman seems shot in precarious settings and from angles where she appears unaware of the photographer standing within inches of her. The photos leave the viewer feeling like a voyeur. Voyeurism, in the strict sense of the word, is the sexual fetish where orgasm is achieved by watching someone, who is unaware that they are being watched, and in some cases, by snapping and owning that photo of them. Each of his women is shot in a way that is beautiful and dream like. What is beautiful, dreamy voyeurism of a vulnerable woman meant to convey? I can only tell you that they turn my stomach.
Every woman friend (and every male friend) who has looked at the portfolio says they feel creepy. As women, we have a visceral sense of when we are in danger of being mugged, raped and murdered. His photos evoke that visceral sense and hints at snuff film fetishism.
Artists, musicians and writers often express their dark side in their work and it resonates with the dark side in the audience or viewer, prompting us to examine ourselves and work through our own demons. I have no problem with the concepts of rape and murder in art. But anything that comes close to fetishistic treatment of these issues may make the artists international sensations and garner them a place in the footnotes of history, but it is not something with which I will participate.
I ended things with “The Photographer,” months ago, and I didn’t regret it for one instant. Had I owned any of his work, THAT I would regret.
As I said, today, I saw that one of his images of a vulnerable woman has been used in a painting by an artist I might have photographed this week. I don’t “own” the art photography world – I am but a small amateur photographer in that world – but he had no interest in art photography when I met him and didn’t follow artists. To find that he has entered this world in the few months since we went our separate ways feels…invasive and creepy. Perhaps that will feel like an overstatement to you. But, that is how I feel.
As creepy as that feels, I won’t stop doing what I do.
However, not only would I never own a piece by “The Photographer,” now I would never photograph or buy a piece from the artist who used his photo for his painting. I will never follow, never photograph, never promote or post images of their work. And so, whether the art is technically good or not, whether it rockets him to stardom and increases his price by 1000% and benefits the few who bought his work at an early stage, the content and its source material means that the artist is finished for me.
I don’t believe I am alone in feeling this way. I know people who have met musicians, actors, directors and writers only to find their arrogance or rudeness ruins any pleasure to be derived from their work. I don’t collect for investment but for pleasure. And, perhaps this is why people say: “Never meet your heroes.”
But perhaps we should examine what it is, exactly, that we think makes them worthy of the title ‘hero.’ Being talented in anything does not excuse oneself from the consequences of risky artistic choices nor does it excuse one from the social contract and etiquette that binds the human race together and it certainly does not, in and of itself, warrant the title ‘hero.’
It is a risky business to meet the person behind the art. Whose risk is it? You’ll have to decide, for yourself.
Today I am grateful that I was wise to tell my friends how belligerent and creepy “The Photographer” had become last year, so that I am able to turn to them today, for support when seeing that image brings up awful memories. I am grateful that I ended things with him and that he is blocked from my life. I am grateful as well that I never had a piece of his work in my place.
It is a joy, on the other hand, to think of the pieces I do own and the ones I plan to buy in the future from artists I do admire as people as well as artists.
I feel a sense of oneness (a sense of solidarity) with that woman in the photo, who was snapped in a moment of being deeply engaged, while in a public space. I wonder how she will feel when and if she comes across the painting of herself. Will she feel flattered or violated? What meaning will she ascribe to the beautiful and dreamlike quality of a photo of her alone, being watched and snapped, by a man in the shadows just inches from her? I sincerely wish that she is surrounded by friends when and if she discovers her image.
For what are you grateful, today?