Just as American collectors, with their art consultants and mall-like buying habits, drove the now busted ten-year-long art boom, so now these same collectors, dentists, trophy spouses, trust fundees and hedge funders, must act as the stimulus to bring the contemporary art scene back from the brink.
What American collectors are not doing at the moment is showing up at Art Basel, putting their work up for auction or lending their work for shows. Instead, these collectors, many of whom have accumulated hundreds of pieces by young and mid-career artists, are operating out of fear: fear that they will sell at a loss, fear of losing face among their art world friends, fear of being openly honest with the dealers whose business has completely dried up.
There are many collectors who still have cash and who are not dependent on selling their collections to keep the wolf from the door. What is needed is for these fortunate folks to step forward publicly in a new kind of alliance which will target struggling galleries and artists for rescue. High-profile collector-curated shows of work that they already own, in which these collectors would publicly sell desirable work at a loss, subsidizing dealers and even giving a resale percentage to the artists who created the work, would be an excellent start.
Open meetings between dealers on the brink of shutting down and A list dealers with deep pockets could create a new collective spirit of collegiality which could eventually abolish the secrecy, furtiveness and lack of transparency which is both the allure and the death knell of the art world as we know it. Thus artists of quality could negotiate with a consortium of dealers and collectors in the open to secure the future marketing and exhibition of their work, and these same art world fellow travelers could also look into creating new nonprofit spaces, with tax benefits, to ensure that many artists will continue to have their work shown in public.
It cannot be overstated how much pressure the closing of even one Chelsea gallery and its dismissal of its artist stable puts on all other artists of whatever means and reputation.
Lest we forget, the history of the New York art world in the last century is rife with paradigms for enlightened collector benefactors to emulate whether it be Stieglitz or the Sculls. It is time to fully Obamaize our art world, for, in the past, those wealthy patrons and their enablers, while fully supporting the President on the political side, have engaged in the most reactionary practices imaginable on the art side. Change is here, arties. Will it drive us down or shall we harness change to remake our world into a better one?
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).