Rediscovery space: sharing the art formerly hidden in private collections

Founded by Jessica and Evrim Oralkan, Collectors is a website and social media platform that aims to serve as a public database and, more ambitiously, an online museum of works of art that disappear into private collections. . Sophie Haigney writes about the initiative.

The private art collection of Roberto Toscano and his wife, Nadia Toscano-Palon, features works by artists such as Daniel Turner, Anish Kapoor, James Turrell and Oscar Tuazon. Since 2012, the collection has grown to over 100 works, which are partly in storage due to renovations and, like most private collections, are rarely seen by anyone outside of the couple’s immediate circle.

This is a problem for many collectors, Toscano included, who want to show their work to a wider audience or think there is a public good in sharing the work they own. Although more upscale collectors are opening more and more private museums, it can be difficult to buy space or staff it. Private collections can often be so opaque, said Toscano, that even artists don’t know the whereabouts of their own works – part of his motivation for making this general information public.

“If I don’t put them in some kind of public database, these works essentially disappear from the planet,” he said.

Enter Collectors, a website and social media platform that boldly promotes itself as “the collective museum of private collections.” Collectors, based at New Museum’s NEW INC., A cultural incubator, is a public benefit corporation with a stated mission to bring works of art to light, at least in the light of the internet. Its founders are Jessica and Evrim Oralkan, married collectors who have been overwhelmed by the size of their own art treasure. They struggled to manage it and share it with the public. “You are coming to a point where your walls can no longer support art,” Oralkan said.

The Oralkans have posted their personal collection online, as has Toscano and about 1,200 others. Anyone with a computer can now scroll through the images of the work they own. It is free to use and access it at a basic level. But users can sign up for two higher tier plans (one at $ 15 per month and another at $ 125 per month) that give access to features like art fair passes and the ability to be interviewed for the site’s editorial platform.

In addition to sharing, art collectors are looking for tools to curate growing collections, connect online with gallery owners and curators, and perhaps brag about what’s on their walls.

“The collection was almost like a private club with people who were very traditional in their privacy and behavior,” said Ronald Varney, an independent fine arts consultant in New York City, in an interview this week. “Today, it’s often: ‘How much publicity can I get out of this? “”

Collectors attempts to harness the energy of social media without all of its associated noise, and offer a window into the secret and exclusive world of private collections. Although the amount of art in private hands is not quantifiable, art sales have increased, reaching $ 67.4 billion in 2018, much of it passing into private hands. Varney called the world of private collections a “murky universe” because private sales go unreported and auction houses are not required to disclose the names of winning bidders.

“There was a work by a high-profile contemporary artist and this work was sold in a major auction at Christie’s a few years ago, which featured prominently in the news,” Varney said. “After its sale, the piece was listed as ‘missing’ on the artist’s website because they know who sold it but not who bought it, and this work has just disappeared from a private collection. “

By its nature, collectors have one obvious limitation: art can only be viewed online. “Not everyone has the resources to open a private museum,” Oralkan said. “So people are looking for alternative options, and those will most likely be digital. “

Collectors is intended to be management software at the same time; a social media platform; an online magazine with maps for printed books on the go; and, more nebulously, an online museum for the public. Its founders say the platform is not meant to buy and sell, but rather another means of accessing information about where the art is located.

The concept of a “digital museum” is not really new. Many museums have a long history of digitizing their collections so that anyone with an internet connection can scroll through the images of art. But when does something go from an online image collection to an online museum, and are collectors eligible?

“It’s really not a museum in all respects,” said Claire Bishop, professor of art history at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, who has researched and written on the effects of digital technology on the visual arts. . She said the lack of emphasis on research, the lack of contextual information about the objects and the lack of in-depth curation make collectors more of a social network than a museum. The information on the website is self-reported, so it can be as strong or as limited as the collector’s choice; often collectors include the dimensions, medium, artist, materials and history of the exhibit. Sometimes they add notes and can organize digital exhibitions of their works.

“If the minimum definition of a digital museum is an online jpeg collection, then an online archive like Artstor is the largest digital museum in the world,” Bishop said, referring to a digital image library for purpose. nonprofit that has amassed millions of images for scientific use. . The use of the word “museum”, she said, is a misnomer and adds cachet to the project while distorting its objectives.

Oralkan emphasized that Collectors is a hybrid platform, driven by aspirations to change the way art can be viewed and shared. “I think we really have a chance to recreate the idea of ​​what a museum can be,” he said. Oralkan said: “If we are looking not to be seen at all or to be seen digitally, digital is a very strong point to make. “

In recent years, Instagram has become a preferred way for collectors to share and find new works. It has also helped some artists, like CJ Hendry, to start their careers outside of traditional channels. Toscano relied on Instagram to search for artists, but said he had become frustrated with the algorithm. “Every four posts someone is trying to sell me something that has nothing to do with my interests,” he said.

Collectors is semi-exclusive; anyone can join and post images, but some members are pre-approved based on the content of the collection, which allows them to appear in the site’s search function. (Quality matters to founders: “We don’t want a Mickey Mouse collector to show Donald Duck art,” Oralkan said.) Viewers can search the site by artist, by collection, by word- key, by hashtag; used to find other works of artists he collects, works that may be in other collections.

But not everyone is interested in showing what they have in chests or on their walls. “People aren’t necessarily looking for the sharing aspect,” said Justin Anthony, one of the founders of a Denver-based company called Artwork Archive. It is a cloud-based inventory system, used by artists, collectors and large institutions for organization and management: users keep track of what they have and where the works are located, as well as title deeds and insurance papers. “I would say there’s a kind of sexy and interesting aspect to it and a practicality. The unsexy side, the management side, is a more common itch than the desire to share.

Often, in fact, customers prefer their collections not to be shared. “We were just dealing with three different political figures who didn’t want to draw attention to their wealth, and they wanted to be sure that no one could trace it back to them,” he said. There is a feature on Artwork Archive that allows art to be shared with the public, but the majority of users keep their collections private or with family and friends.

Varney said he believes social media will open up the art market and add more transparency. “Things sort of disappear from private collections,” he said. “When things come onto the market, especially older things that have been off the market forever, it’s almost like a story of discovery. “

© 2019 The New York Times

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