In our first article we’re going to tell you how to bring order in the collection of contemporary art to increase its value and to understand where to move next. The information was shared by Anastasia Timofeenko, an art critic, an expert on working with private collections and an archivist of the pop/off/art gallery.
Step 1. Neatly organize storage and make an inventory of the whole collection
When we create an archive of a collection, the first thing we do is organize the correct and safe storage of works: we disassemble the storage, pack the artworks, place the collection units in the room so that the pieces of art don’t damage each other.
At the same time we make high-quality photographs of the artworks — they will definitely be needed in the archive. It’s crucial to have not only photos of the front side, but also the backdrop, because there may be useful information: technical data, signatures, sketches. I’ve recently interacted with the artworks of Alexander Grigoriev. He’s a kinetic artist, he was part of the Movement group. Now he often creates op-art works based on his sketches of the 1970s or 1980s, gluing them directly to the backdrop of a new artwork.
Of course we also verify, recheck and supplement the technical data of the collection units. Sometimes you have to contact the artist directly to make sure that the artwork was really made in 2002, and it really is an oil on canvas. We will obviously recognise canvas and oil, but there’re many different personal techniques that are difficult to determine without talking to the artist.
Step 2. To make it clear, what needs restoration. Remove all unnecessary items from the collection.
It’s important to make photos and have a look at all the artworks in person to immediately determine their condition. Firstly, it allows you to understand what works need to be sent for restoration and what budget needs to be set on it. Secondly, it helps to manage the collection: artworks that need restoration are "frozen" and immediately excluded from certain manipulations. For example, most likely you won’t be able to give such a work to an exhibition.
The first level where you can analyse your collection is to understand what should definitely not be in it.
It is worth removing those pieces that aren’t really involved in art or don’t have enough sufficiency within this certain collection. I think many collectors have artworks that someone once presented them, or ones that a person bought 20 years ago, when their personal attitude to art was different.
Step 3. Trace the work history
The value of the work is formed, among other things, due to its history: publications related to it, exhibitions where the work was exhibited, provenance. This information tells to what extent the artist was involved in the art world, how actively he interacted with institutions, etc. How to search for information about a work?
First of all, you need to remember that you will not find everything. If there is an opportunity to contact the author, it is worth starting with this. It is often useful to also write to a gallery owner who works with him or has worked before. The gallery owner can remember more details, because he directly managed the works at exhibitions and fairs, and, perhaps, recorded the information in his own archives. If this is not possible, it is worth starting with an Internet search. There are huge gaps there, especially with regard to the 2000s (even archival photos from the 90s can be easier to find), but this is not a bad start. We often use the Archive of the Garage Museum of Modern Art (RAAN): we look through old issues of art magazines one by one (for example, Dialogue of Arts or Art Chronicle), turn to monographs and catalogs. First of all - to the artist's personal catalogues, then to the catalogues of group exhibitions in which the author took part.
It’s not always possible to track the history from and to, and it’s fine, but even the participation of the work in one significant exhibition (let’s say, in the State Hermitage Museum) is a big plus.
"Sometimes the owner remembers more details than the author"
Step 4. Analyse the collection by dividing it into separate categories. It’s possible to make a catalog
An additional option when working with a collection can be the creation of a printed or electronic catalog. At the same time, it’s important to systematise a large amount of information correctly. Recently the pop/off/art gallery worked on a catalog of a private collection, and we created a kind of navigation inside it, which showed important for the collection and generational categories. For example, artists of older and younger generation were singled out separately, street art separately, Ukrainian art separately — all these were independent significant layers
"If you analyse the collection and create navigation, it becomes more convenient to work with it and plan purchases"
Creating such navigation requires some analysis and systematizes the collection. It turns out, the works of which medium, of what kind, of what quality dominate. This can help the collector to see the potential of the collection and plan further acquisitions.
You can turn to professionals for an advice about the future of the collection: for example, ask which artworks in the collection are the most significant, or which are profitable to sell now, in 5 or 10 years.
Step 5. Choose tools for storing information
As experience shows, Excel or Google Spreadsheets are often chosen for internal use.
Excel is convenient for working with numeric and text values, and not with format files.jpeg or .tiff: heavy images just won't be displayed. It seems to me that it is easier to work with pictures in Google Tables, if you do not have problems with the Internet, of course.
You can create a separate website for the collection (we know that this is already practiced), in which a database of the collection's works will be "sewn". Through the personal account, the collector will be able to open a kind of table, use filters, search and somehow interact with the cards of the collection units.
There are also various databases, separate programs and applications. They are paid, not always all the functionality is necessary, and problems may arise when using them. Sometimes it is necessary to grant access to third-party users, but this possibility is not provided, sometimes a convenient mobile application does not go with the computer version, etc.
Now it’s convenient to store information about the collection, manage it and show your purchases on the website artocratia.com.
We give you the opportunity to upload photos of works, specify technical information and additional information from provenance to publications. The works can be divided into categories and grouped into albums by themes, techniques, time of creation, time of purchase and any other criteria that will help you structure your collection.
The intuitive interface won’t let you get confused, and the artworks will be available online to all users of the site, if you want it. Art lovers will be able to explore them, and curators will be invited to participate in exhibitions.