Sunday, October 14, 2007
I had a weird, awful conversation with a so-called art collector recently. I didn't know him. He emailed me, expressed interest in acquiring one of my works, and asked me to call. Usually, I don't do that, I prefer to correspond with people first before speaking with them. Don't ask me why I did it this time but I regretted it. He began our conversation by complimenting me on my 'hand'. I assumed he was referring to my recent works using pencil and watercolour but he went on to tell me that he only liked my hard-edged paintings. These have no trace of a hand – mine or anyone else's – because they're intended to look machine-made, with stylised blocks of colour and unnervingly even line work. I guess complimenting an artist on their hand was a phrase he picked up from a commercial gallerist somewhere but didn't really know what it meant. Then he told me, "I don't like your – what would you call it? – pornographic work. I suppose it's not very popular is it?" . I thought he was talking about my recent, sexually explicit series of watercolours, Kelly, The First Time, then I realised he was referring to the Venus In Hell series I exhibited in Melbourne, last year. I wouldn't call either series pornographic. Obviously, the guy had read neither my interview about them in NY Arts Magazine nor the review by respected art critic, Ashley Crawford, which notes, "With her earlier work, one wondered whether she could in fact draw. Venus in Hell removes all doubt." As for 'popularity', both series sold out within a week of being exhibited. His next remark made me realise why he preferred my earlier work – he had seen it more. "I like it when I see an artist's work, and bam! I recognise it right away," he said. "That's what I like." Of course, he went on to assure me, "I only collect art because I love it, not because of the resale value." Yeah, yeah. Whether they are honest about it or not, the reason most collectors buy an easily recognisable art work is that it's easy to sell. Their economic and social peers can also identify it as 'valuable' – a high-end consumer product, like an Italian sports car. In other words, to like an artist's work because it is recognisable has nothing at all to do with art and everything to do with 'brand recognition'. Once, the tired cliché offered by an uninformed collector was, "I don't know art, but I know what I like." Nowadays, in our over-heated, hyper-acquisitive consumer culture this has beeen dumbed down even more: "I don't know art, but I know what I like when I recognise it." As the collector himself told me, "Think of a well known Australian artist, and I'll have one of their works". I don't know why I persisted in being polite during this conversation, especially in the face of bizarre attempts first to impress me then to put me down. I guess I was caught off-guard. Thankfully, my regular collectors are far more sophisticated. When he tried to argue a lower price for my work, inaccurately citing a recent auction house result, I lost my patience. Yes, my work is expensive but over the past 10 years it has increased in price over 1,000 per cent. As another, smarter collector wrote to me, "It is a lot of money but I understand the price is driven by the market." The guy asked to visit my studio twice during the conversation. As if. I told him I had no stock to show him. And anyway, only my closest friends and most constant collectors are invited here. I know other artists have open studios. I don't. My studio is private, a place of intense creativity not commerce.