Art collectors buying locally

From a recent Wall Street Journal article titled Local Artists Are on the Rise:

    From Bloomfield Hills, Mich., to Turin, Italy, contemporary-art collectors are passing on works by international art stars and skipping far-flung art fairs and auctions. This year, they’re buying local.

    In Detroit, major collector and steel company executive Gary Wasserman says he’s stopped buying works by England’s Anish Kapoor and China’s Yue Minjun so he can focus more on buying “powerfully Midwestern” art by artists like Brian Carpenter, whose $1,000 photographs often feature images of dead deer, Lake Erie nuclear reactors and snowy footprints.

This is encouraging to me. It harkens back to my interest in seeing local art and artists working and making a living (or at least part of a living) from their work in a local context. There’s nothing wrong with marketing and selling art nationally or globally. However, there’s good reason for artists to work out of their immediate environment both by allowing it to influence their work — artists are by nature people who observe their surroundings — and allowing their work to influence the local culture. Incarnational living is the phrase I’ve used to describe this kind of attitude in past entries.

In her book Dakota, author Kathleen Norris laments how few artists were living and working in the Dakotas in the early 90s. She worried, rightly, that their Plains culture would be lost without poets and painters working out of and in the midst of the people there.

Prominent collectors purchasing from local painters, sculptors and architects helps validate local cultures in a day and age when said cultures become more and more muddled. From the Old World Swine blog last week:

    The problem with American culture is that it is built on relativism that says any culture is as good as the next, and all the cultures have been banged around together for so long in the relativistic Melting Pot that they are hardly distinguishable from one another. They have been ground to bits, and the distinct edges worn off. Rather than inheriting a coherent and organic culture, each individual makes his or her own culture by picking and choosing whatever broken bits of other cultures they find appealing at the moment.

While I would change the terminology in his first sentence to say “any culture is the same as the rest” — which is what I think he meant — writer Tim Jones’ point is well-established. There is still color in local cultures if you look hard enough, but big business in America has worked tirelessly over the past few decades to root it out. Big-box retailers, fast-food franchises and our own insatiable consumerist pursuit of the latest factory built goods has left us with a largely monochromatic national landscape. “Haven’t we been here before, Rocky?” Bullwinkle asks as the two cartoon characters drive across America in their most recent film. I can understand why you’d think that Bullwinkle.

Let’s hope the trend to buy from local artists continues and isn’t simply a reaction to an art market bubble.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

One Response to Art collectors buying locally

  1. suburbanlife says:

    I don’t have a huge collection, but because of my earlier training as a printmaker I have over the years amassed a modest artist print collection, specializing in woodcuts and linocuts by artists in my region whose work has grabbed me viscerally. it is a joy to look at the various works, and to see a stream of sensibility which connects them to my life over the years. The collection reveals a self who has lived in the aesthetic memes of my times, and is peculiar to the era over which I have lived. The regional nature of the collection shows what artists herabouts have considered important to put into form. When my so inherits these bits and pieces, he may or may not keep the majority, but luck would have it that he shares a love of the historical aspects of contemporary life and thought. When he adds his own compilation to it, I would love to be around to see the compilation the collection becomes. As the economics of life narrow our spheres of influence, so will what people surround themselves with show more local flavour. Maybe, eventually, the monoculture that contemporary art tends to be will Balkanize into the idiosyncracies of regionalism. I think this is a good thing. G

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