Collection Collective was initiated as a speculative curatorial proposal wherein a group of artists, designers, architects, lawyers, economists, and cultural producers were invited to reflect on the possibility of constructing a contemporary art collection that is owned and managed collectively by its members. As a curatorial research hypothesis, the project asked whether an alternative can be identified to narratives which, from the Florentine studiolo and the Kunstkammer, and up to contemporary private collections, conceives the phenomenon of collecting as an alibi for a narcissistic self-identification of the private subject. It functions according to a very simple principle: each member offers work for the collection according to skill and expertise.
For the first stage of the project, Judit Angel, Raluca Voinea, and Vlad Morariu invited cultural workers with whom they had already collaborated and had established a history of friendship and mutual trust. The project materialised in Bratislava, in late 2017, where a first model of the collection was publicly presented at Collection Collective: Template for a Future Model of Representation, an exhibition that took place at tranzit.sk. The space also represented a good occasion for the participants to meet at an internal seminar, which saw the official founding of the Collection. Thus, Bratislava represented a transition point from an ‘acting as if’ phase – acting as if the Collection existed - to a collective commitment to the articulation and implementation of the Collection. In Bratislava we interrogated the way this project positions itself within contemporary art world discourses, its aims and objectives, and its functioning principles. Friendship and mutual respect should remain a guiding value for the collection’s expansion and thus, during 2018, each founding member has invited new members to join in. The Collection now includes more than 50 members and in late 2018 sees the official launch of its website, which will take place at tranzit.ro/ București, in Romania.
At present Collection Collective embodies a prototypical international art collection established, owned, and managed collectively by its members. It is rooted in three tenets that determine the current conditions for the production, presentation, and consumption of culture and art:
- The precarity of public cultural institutions in Europe and beyond, which facing a growing wave of right-wing populisms and nationalisms, and the demands to show value for money, fail to include works that critically address the status quo in their collections. Collection Collective represents an effort to reintroduce to the public discourse the question of political and cultural autonomy, through creating an institutional machine for empowerment, visibility, and representation.
- The systemic conditions of cultural production, which encourage opportunism and competition between cultural workers, and whose result is the destruction of collective forms of organisation, resistance, and struggle. Collection Collective responds to the urgency of articulating sustainable models of collective legitimation and representation where collectivity is based on politics of friendship, mutual respect, and recognition.
- The humanitarian, ecological, and political crises to which a culture based on private patronage is incapable of responding. Collection Collective does not only question whether collecting is possible beyond the whims, tastes, and likes of the private collector; it also represents an attempt to rethink the functions, roles, and purposes of collecting as a collective practice recording and shaping our contemporary condition.
Works of art are complex semiotic beings. They are as much loved for the stories they unravel as for their readiness to offer themselves as signs of social standing and privilege. They provide sensuous pleasure and intellectual gratification as much as they can offer a heaven for safe investment. They are not produced as commodities, but at the end of the economic chain they may be dealt both as exchange values and as sign values. They are collected because they offer comfort and the illusion of control as well as prestige and power.
The global expansion of contemporary art has certainly created new opportunities for spending capital, especially in newly emerging economies (Russia, China, the Middle East and beyond). Nonetheless, collecting art should be clearly distinguished from accumulating, stockpiling, and storing. It is not simply a matter of a serial addition of ‘artefacts’ whose common property is that a community of art world experts labels them ‘art’, which may be used as assets in economic exchange. Collecting art gathers differentiated ‘objects’, which continue to connote the social and cultural rituals of the world ‘outside’ of the collection. Whilst they may not provide a solution to the world’s problems, they remain the last bastions preserving the shared values of humanity in specific historic contexts. Art collections have an irreducible public dimension, which we believe needs re-affirmation urgently in these dire, current times. From this point of view, it is often forgotten that the two terms we work with, ‘collection’ and ‘collective,’ stem from the same Latin word, collectus, the participle of the verb colligere (to choose and gather together). Without engaging into etymological speculation, we propose that questions about the role and effectiveness of collective action may find an answer in the conception of the collective as a self-curated collection of individuals. Likewise, the question of the public role, function and purpose of collections may find an answer if asked from the perspective of the collective and of collectivity. Since both collections and collectives point towards the question of what is common, as a shared principle of organisation and systematisation, Collection Collective articulates itself as an attempt to address critical practices of contemporary art as common and public good.
As the project develops, we remain committed to the values we have identified from the beginning: we seek to de-privatise the collecting subject and institute the collective as the active agent; and we will rethink the relationship between self-interest and collective goal, between individual and group strategy, between private taste and collective socio-political tactic and between insular neurosis and therapeutic friendship.