Collecting Contemporary Art
Zane Oborenko, Culture Theorist
In countries with a well developed art marketing system, art collecting problems are currently mainly associated with issues of an ethical and legal nature, but in the Baltic area the main problem continues to be the scarcity of contemporary art collectors.

To promote the development of the art market and the growth of new collectors in the Baltic area, the Vilnius Art Club (in the person of Ilma Nausedaite) organized a seminar, Collecting Contemporary Art, which took place at the National Art Gallery building in Vilnius on 28 January and attracted interested parties from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Denmark. Dr. Iain Robertson, Head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby’s Institute of Art, Alistair Hicks, Art Advisor at Deutsche Bank AG and one of the buyers and curators of the bank’s art collection and Simon Rees, Senior Curator at the Vilnius Contemporary Art Centre (CAC) appeared at the seminar. The aim was mainly to respond to questions of a practical nature: How to start collecting? Are a few hundred euros enough to start? How to choose valuable contemporary art works and what sort of income can be expected from invest¬ments in the collection of contemporary art?

Speaking on the topic ‘Art is Easy’, Simon Rees provided answers to the question of what signs to look for in identifying contemporary art, so as not to get confused by differing opinions and not to think that it’s everything that’s been created after the Second World War. The differing development of contemporary art in the countries of the former USSR was also mentioned, where for 50 years art development was suspended and replaced by a completely different kind of art in a different social and aesthetic value system. As a result contemporary art in these countries today encounters problems which in the 1940s–70s were topical in the West, namely the lack of understanding on the part of the public, the press and even conservative art critics about what really is contemporary art and how to appreciate it. Rees emphasized the significance of humour and satire in the positioning of contemporary art, and as an example mentioned works by US artist Ad Reinhardt, which directly provoke viewers to think about how to look at art, at artists and finally at themselves, clearly showing that art can be not only serious, but also witty and fun.

For the curator of the Deutsche Bank art collection Alistair Hicks, too, the world of art is mainly fun, but Iain Robertson emphasized that the art market values art as an asset, which can be expressed in the form of money and provides not just aesthetic, but also financial enjoyment, in this way setting out two of the main motivations for collecting: collecting as an investment and a source of income, and collecting as the provider of aesthetic and philosophic pleasure. In both cases, knowledge as well as due diligence are important for a successful collector to make the best possible decisions in the compilation of the collection.
At the seminar 'Collecting Contemporary Art'. Photo: Zane Oborenko
It is significant that Robertson commenced his session with the results of a study done by the Capgemini business consultancy company, which showed that although about 25% of the resources which wealthy people have set aside for emo¬tional assets is invested in art, this is still only purchased after buying yachts, cars and jewellery, and after travelling the world and enjoying extreme or exclusive sports. Accordingly, as one of the audience at Robertson’s lectures once said, half in jest: art, although it’s included with luxury goods, has proven to be a peculiar kind of “trash economy”.

Historically, the Old Masters’ art market has been the most stable for investments and the least subject to fluctuations. Contemporary art on the other hand is a much riskier investment, which often experiences radical changes in value due to unpredictable changes in taste and market fluctuations. Consequently contemporary art collection differs fundamentally in its dynamics and requires a substantially dif¬ferent attitude and risk tolerance, which often cannot even be described as rational. At the same time a unifying factor should also be noted in the collection of art works of any kind – the real price is known only at the moment of sale. An instant before, and immediately afterwards, the monetary value of the work is not known by anyone.

Thus the Deutsche Bank collection concept and Hicks’s choice not to buy art in order to make a profit is much safer, as it guarantees emotional and philosophical pleasure at least up to the moment when changes in personal taste may take place. The aim of the Deutsche Bank collection is to gain the widest possible view of what is currently happening in the world of art and that which is exciting, with the main value being assigned to ideas. Certainly, for them it is just as important to support artists and to create a stimulating and creative work environment for bank employees and customers, as the works included in the collection are exhibited in the bank’s buildings, both in the offices as well as in conference halls. Such a strategy has justified itself from the aspect of the collection’s financial value as well, which for a business like a bank cannot be of little importance. Although selling the greater part of the Deutsche Bank collection today could be problematic, the works which could be sold would recover every last cent which has been invested in the collection. This seminar – the first of its kind in the Baltic States – marks a positive trend: the Vilnius Art Club (which previously could have been described as a private, closed club) has moved on from educational discussion evenings about art held in a free atmosphere to public events open to everyone. And it proves that it only takes the initiative of one person, (in this case Ilma Nausedaite), to launch significant events which actively encourage the development of the art environment. The fact that nearly 100 interested parties attended the seminar bodes well also. Nausedaite has expressed the idea of continuing to organize such events, not just in Lithuania, but in Latvia and Estonia as well.

/Translator into English: Uldis Brūns/
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