Art (the real kind) is not an easily attainable feature for the home.
Either purchased at considerable expense or inherited if you’re lucky, art – real art – belongs to the few.
This scarcity is key to the art community. It keeps art dealers and galleries in business, artists creating and the punters bidding.
So what to do and where does an individual begin, if they aspire to a real art collection?
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One solution is to work smarter, not harder and band together like the group of art appreciators who formed the Ellipsis Collection in 2012.
Sort of like an art timeshare, the group of 12 members share a collection of artworks on rotation, swapping pieces every four months, and adding to it every year.
A collective insurance policy paid out of group funds covers the artworks whilst at people’s houses and during transport to and from.
They’re more of a “loose group” than a friendship group, former flatmates and friends of friends. The desire for art is their common ground.
“Our goals were first and foremost to have some art on our walls,” said Ellipsis member Georgia O’Brien, “and also to develop our sensibility and educate ourselves about art and understand the ‘art world’.”
Unsurprisingly, there’s a spectrum of tastes within the group.
“I think your taste changes,” said Melissa Collow, Ellipsis member and photographer by trade. “We’ve all been challenged by some of the pieces that have come into our homes but you grow to love them.”
It works like this. Each year the members put the same [undisclosed] amount into the kitty, and three people are elected to the “buying committee” by drawing names from a hat.
The buying committee purchase three new pieces per year directly from galleries, not at auction. This means provenance, plus a great back-story.
Because the buying committee are entrusted with cumulative cash, guidelines are key. For example many members have children, so sculptures are out.
To make the cut of artists the group will even consider, there’s criteria to be met.
Namely, Ellipsis want artwork from emerging and mid-career New Zealand artists, who are qualified or have gained a recognised art award, have been featured in articles or had reviews of their work published, have work in public collections, have done some exhibitions or have representation, or simply show future potential.
“Not all of our artists fit into every single one of these criteria but most do,” said O’Brien.
The only non-negotiables are that chosen pieces “must be hung on the wall, and must fit into the boot of a car.”
The pieces vary in size from 40 x 40cm to 140 x 110 cm, with a $10,000 range between their smallest and largest purchases.
The quarterly change-up means that members get to experience styles of art that they wouldn’t normally choose themselves.
“A big part of joining this group has been about finding out what you do like,” said O’Brien. “I wouldn’t say I have a favourite artist, more that I have favourite pieces.”
“You live with them and you get quite attached to them,” said Ellipsis member Nicola Pike. “When they go, you sort of mourn for a couple of days, but then a new one arrives.”
Currently the Ellipsis Collection consists of 15 pieces, so everyone has one at home and some people have two.
Double-ups are decided by the club secretary.
“The Ellipsis secretary keeps a spreadsheet which records who has what and how many pieces each person has had – when it comes to the next rotation, the secretary will look at the people who have had the least pieces and make sure that they get a turn at having two pieces first,” O’Brien said.
“You also have to consider which pieces a person has had before and try and give everyone a piece they haven’t had if possible.”
“It’s a bit tricky but with some spreadsheet skills and a random number generator it seems to have worked so far.”
The first piece the group bought was Untitled, 2012 by Sam Mitchell. “It’s a really challenging one,” said Collow.
Many of the pieces are avant-garde and ironic, such as the plain white canvas with border piece by Seung Yul Oh, currently on the wall at Pike’s Ponsonby apartment, which could be described as anti-art.
“My white piece arrived and I thought, ‘How am I going to live with that in my house?’” said Pike.
Collow currently has a Gavin Hurley in her home, whilst O’Brien is enjoying a double up of works by Kirsten Roberts and Amber Wilson.
Shopping with other people’s money might sound fun, but the members say there can be a lot of pressure on the buying committee when you consider that “the other nine people might turn their noses up” at your choices.
But who dares wins, and the Ellipsis collection aim to own a spectrum of works so that everyone’s tastes are reflected.
“I’d like to buy more high risk pieces,” said Collow. “Modern stuff, challenging stuff.”
Ultimately it’s a win-win for everyone. There’s real art on the walls, the group’s aesthetic tastes are expanding and Collow finds that it’s stirring a real interest in art among her children.
“They look at it and see something completely different. It’s really interesting,” she said.
Art might sound like a potential investment strategy, but that’s not what Ellipsis are in it for.
“Naturally, it would be great if we stumbled across the next big thing and made a small fortune,” said O’Brien.
“However before we started, we knew that this should not be a goal because investing in art is a gamble.”
But, “at the same time, we buy from artists who are in it for the long haul and we believe have talent, which in turn suggests that we expect their work will increase in value.”