Published  08/11/2015

The Collective: ‘You grieve for works of art when you don’t have them’

The Collective: ‘You grieve for works of art when you don’t have them’

Paul and Midge Tanner, two of the founding members of The Collective, explain how and why they came to set up this collaborative art collectors’ organization

• See also, Jefford Horrigan: Own Worst Enemy for The Collective – review


Founded in 2002, The Collective, a London-based group of professionals gathered together through family and long-term friendships, now advises new groups of collectors of contemporary art around the UK and overseas. This unique collaborative enterprise supports creative practice and expands engagement with contemporary art by displaying the works purchased (in a rotating system) in the homes of its members. In this way, works of art are exhibited in different domestic contexts, and seen by people who might never visit a contemporary gallery or museum.

MK Palomar: How did The Collective begin?

Paul Tanner: It began with a group of friends about 15 years ago – we all had an interest in contemporary art. Two of our members went to a John Piper exhibition: they couldn’t afford to buy a painting, but they started talking about whether they could pool their resources to buy a work. I think the idea was sparked at that exhibition. A little while afterwards there was a fund-raising activity on behalf of the Cubitt Gallery in Islington, north London, and they were auctioning a box of prints that had been donated by artists at Shoreditch town hall in east London. We then got together as friends and decided to contribute money so that we could buy one of those boxes and share the artwork – that was really how it got started. We spent some time setting up a framework, a constitution and an exit strategy, so members could leave, retrieve the money they’d paid, or take an artwork with them. We wanted to be more engaged with art and artists and to be able to have art at home.

Midge Tanner: It was a very practical idea – to have artworks in your house.

PT: We don’t have much financial clout and we were clear we didn’t want this to be an investment enterprise for us, but to be to a support for artists and a means for us to engage with contemporary art at home.

MKP: How do you decide what works to buy?

PT: Several of our members are artists, and we are also guided by galleries. 

MT: The Collective has a purchasing panel of three members – the panel rotates among the members so everyone has the opportunity to buy work. Once the work is bought, the purchasing panel presents the work to the other members of The Collective.

MKP: Has there ever been a problem with a work that has been bought?

PT: We have two drawings by Franko B. It was great to talk to him in his studio, but quite difficult given that he makes his drawings with his blood – there were people who refused to have the pictures in their house. It’s a process of developing and expanding and extending our appreciation. And it allows us to get together every six months. There are interesting reactions (within The Collective group) and you also get fascinating responses from friends (who come into our homes). Inevitably, it generates discussions. 

MKP: Have you ever shown The Collectives’ collection publicly?

PT: Yes, the (artist-led) contemporary art space Aid & Abet in Cambridge offered to curate an exhibition for us. It gathered works collected by seven collective groups (us, three other London groups, and groups from Cambridge, Bristol and Birmingham).

MKP: How did the other collective groups’ works stand up to your collection?

PT: There is a consistency to all the groups. We had a national collective meeting to discuss how we would develop the process. A few years ago, we approached the Arts Council to help us go out and set up other groups. We have lent artwork to other groups and they have lent to us. And, for new groups, we put together a starter pack – a collection of works, so they have something to take home immediately. Our group has been together for sometime; other groups break apart after a short time. There’s a group in New Zealand based in a gallery. Collecting art collectively is open to all sorts of different approaches and contexts. One of our members is going to San Francisco later this year to talk to potential collectives out there.

MKP: How has being part of The Collective influenced your life?

PT:  We have pieces (of art) in our house all the time, and we meet artists in their studios. Without The Collective, we would never have had the courage or felt entitled to visit artists in their studios. The Collective has become the fabric of our (the members’) friendship. We meet twice, sometimes three times a year: the social aspect, the family and friends (engagement with contemporary art), is very important.

MT: Three of us (The Collective purchasing panel) went to the Gasworksstudio, [where] we found the artist Frances Richardson and bought one of her drawings (121005, 2006, pencil on gesso), and we also met Joy Gregory, who had a fascinating story. Every piece has a story and every artist responds to our interest in the creative process. 

MKP: Has it taken up a larger part of your life than you expected?

PT: Definitely, and another member, who works in the medical sector, now includes contemporary artwork in her lectures on nursing.

MKP: Do you have a favourite work?

PT:  I do. It’s a small drawing by Andrew Bick (Untitled, 2003, Drawing, purchased at the Drawing Room). The thing is, it’s all up for grabs every six months. Generally, the main activity is buying a new piece, but also the collection gets moved around (between our houses). You suddenly realise how much you miss the pieces when you don’t see them – you grieve for them when you don’t have them.


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