A Hot Potato


General Photography

I have a pretty good idea how many people read this blog, but it’s hard for me to tell who those readers are. From the emails I receive, I know of many photographers following the blog, and I have some ideas about/from gallerists, photo editors, or museum curators. The group I literally I know next to nothing about are photo collectors. Do they follow this - or other - blog(s)? I don’t know. For me, this is a bit unfortunate, since I often talk to people to get different perspectives of issues that come up. Getting the input from photographers, gallerists, and/or other bloggers usually means that I get to see different sides of the same story; and I think there is a lot to be gained from seeing more than one side.

I had to think of this in the context of the Burdeny-Leong saga. If you’ve followed the story so far, you might have noticed that there’s one aspect that has been lacking from the whole discussion.

This morning, I received an email from someone who is not only a regular reader of this blog, but also a collector. The reader, A.M., had this to say (I’m quoted this with explicit permission, of course):

“Little is written about the gallery that is showing and selling the Burdenys and its obligation to the public including buyers. Ms. Kostiuk’s website posts his accolades. None of the particulars of the controversy are posted. In my dealings with a number of galleries, I have relied on the fact that I am provided all relevant information regarding the art that is shown.”

The collectors’ side of this story has been pretty much neglected so far. It does strike me as an important aspect to think about, though, regardless of what your personal opinion about this case might be.

For example, as a photographer, you can convince yourself that what you are doing is a very different variant of someone else’s work. Part of your success will depend on whether collectors see it the same way - after they are the people who’ll be forking out a lot of money for your work. It’s great to have a critically acclaimed show, but as photographers and gallerists know, shows cost money to produce, and it’s nice to get the expenses back in, and even better to make some money.

In the context of art, talking about money is usually considered to be vulgar, but as much as we all hate to talk about money (especially about the lack of funding for the arts), once we talk about gallery shows, we’re literally in business.

Arguments about art generally being derivative, about artists getting inspiration from other artists are of course very valid. As I outlined in my various posts, such discussions must not be overly simplistic, but of course, people can disagree with me. That said, from what I can tell, collecting art for many people is based on developing a personal - often emotional - connection with a piece of art (in whatever form). And such personal connections might not necessarily be based on those intellectual ideas about how art is evolving.