Art collectors and philanthropists Pamela Joyner and Füsun Eczacıbaşı discuss supporting overlooked artists through a recontextualisation of art history.
Moderated by ArtReview Editor-in-Cheif, Mark Rappolt, the conversation “Beyond Collecting” at Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2017 distinguishes the differences between collecting and patronage and what these terms mean in a globalised, yet partisan world.
Patronage as creative process
The dialogue opens with Mark Rappolt’s reference to the late poet Ezra Pound who described patronage as a creative process. He suggested that an artist is responsible for constructing a work and a patron must find a way to build the artwork into the world. The moderator’s aim is to introduce his guests as creatives, diving into the core of their collections and, by extension, their ambitions as patrons and activists. While both collectors were given ample time to introduce their prized holdings, the focus of the Art Basel Miami Beach conversation was more conceptual, namely the expanding role of collectors with regard to commissioning largely under-represented artists’ work, opening foundations and supporting museums and scholarly publications. For Pamela Joyner and Füsun Eczacıbaşı, the artwork is not the be-all-end-all: the goal is to catalyse the system.
“Champion of programmatic initiatives”: Pamela Joyner
Years ago the arts patron Pamela Joyner and her husband Fred J Giuffrida decided to put their collection of nearly 400 pieces – primarily abstract work by African-American artists – to work. More specifically, to work for change, to reframe the course of art history through those who have been historically marginalised and overlooked. “We are very laser focused,” Joyner explains. “The collection is mission driven, and the mission is to rewrite art history.” For Joyner, collecting is a dialogue between patron, artist, institution and the public – a dialogue which must deal with greater narratives surrounding under-represented or diasporic artists. Beyond this, collecting is no longer a process by which objects are obtained, it is a practice that stands to foster education. From Norman Lewis paintings to Samuel Levi Jones’ recent multimedia work, the Joyner collection holds scholarship as its genesis, where communing with art world inhabitants – or “learners” – is done so through philanthropic aims.
Her recent book, Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art, aims to propel this concept. By collaborating with a wide array of scholars and art professionals such as Thelma Golden, Philippe Vergne, Thomas J. Lax, Lawrence Rinder and Christopher Bedford, Joyner not only exercises her own voice, but promotes the expanding scholarship around the collection she has so devotedly maintained.
Much of Joyner’s career has focused not necessarily on exhibitions and programming, but the presence of African artists on museum walls. This mindset led to what Joyner refers to as her first ‘Aha!’ moment. Years ago, the collector was approached by the Tate’s Former Director Nicholas Serota who looked to expand the museums’ collection of African modern and contemporary art. Through years of collaboration and Joyner’s gracious support, Tate’s collection grew, both in content and acclaim, leading to the production of such blockbuster exhibitions as “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power”, which was on display at Tate Modern from 12 July – 22 October 2017.
The Art Basel conversation brings to light Joyner’s (and other established collectors’) keen sense of responsibility regarding activist-oriented patronage. She notes that it takes a community of like-minded individuals to “catalyse the echo system” and promote interest in one’s philanthropic passions.
Ideas over objects: Füsun Eczacıbaşı
Füsun Eczacıbasi’s home in Istanbul’s old city is an emblem of contemporary art filled with large-scale installations, sculpture, video pieces and other works by primarily Turkish artists. As the co-founder and chairman of the SAHA Association for the Arts and the founder and the major shareholder of Karınca Design, Eczacıbaşı entered into the world of collecting as a young architecture student. Her first purchase, which is proudly still a part of the collection she has with her husband Faruk Eczacıbaşı, was a small Andy Warhol piece. Through the years, it is not only her collection which has expanded, but also her creative process, noting a drastic shift from amassing visually-pleasing works to collecting ideas.
Like Joyner, Eczacıbaşı details her ‘Aha!’ moment being the 1993 Venice Biennale. Upon entering the German Pavillion, the budding collector was struck by Hans Haacke’s legendary work Germania. The conceptual piece is physically nothing more than a shattered concrete floor, yet Eczacıbaşı knew straight away that “art is not about objects. Art is about ideas”. Her collection has reflected this philosophy ever since, her only criteria being the cohesive assembly of ideas.
Several times during the conversation, Eczacıbaşı refers to herself as an “enabler”, whose responsibility is to facilitate an artist’s modus operandi. Though Turkey is home to several “wonderful institutions”, funding for individual artists is strictly limited. She notes that there was previously no support for the production of art, specifically with regard to international networks and exhibitions – a reality which led her to a second conclusion: a collector must support his or her own artistic ecosystem. She explains that when international exhibitions are programmed, the need for funding is extraordinarily high and hard to come by, especially in her homeland. As an enabler, Eczacıbaşı encourages original work and puts both artists and institutuions at (relative) financial ease. This is the cornerstone of her collecting practice.
While many collectors feel the need to be involved with the entire exhibitionary process, Eczacıbaşı finds it most beneficial to maintain a degree of distance, to avoid interfering too much with the work, its content or its exhibition. The collector is first and foremost a source of funding, which, she says, is the first step in establishing prominence as a Turkish patron. “We are not art professionals,” she reminds the Miami Beach audience.
Collecting vs. Patronage
The philanthropic aims in both Joyner’s and Eczacıbaşı’s careers leads to a discussion on the difference between patronage and collecting and why distinguishing between the two is imperative in the contemporary art market. Patronage, Rappolt concludes, is the suppression of one’s own ego and interests while focusing, instead, on supporting production and research. It is about motivation. Here, the conversation halts on an interesting premise: motivating others through patronage can often become a type of propaganda or self-promotion. The collectors mention that pushing one’s own ideals onto an artist or institutions suppresses the voices of the creators. A new age of patronage, rather, should be about offering up one’s point of view for consideration then letting those with the camera, paintbrush, etc. do the speaking.
Collecting, on the other hand, is far more deliberate. In this case, a collector’s funds are spent on “filling gaps”, be they racial, theoretical or aesthetic. Of this phenomenon Rappolt asks:
I wonder how this idea of broadening the history of art and the experience of art relates to a world in which many experiences in the social and civil realm are becoming narrower … do you feel like you are fighting against the tide?
In following the current of a globalised, rapidly-expanding art world, a patron’s only concerns must be to encourage dialogue, make connections and widen a network of like-minded art enthusiasts. As Joyner swiftly replies, “we reflect the tide”.
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