Collect catalogue 2017 sample - page 11

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For craft to thrive in the 21st century,
it needs to develop a new economic model,
argues Glenn Adamson
Shelf by shelf: that is how the studio craft movement was built.
If you have spent any time with collectors in the craft field, you will
be familiar with the sight. Walls that might in other homes be given
over to paintings or flat-screen televisions are instead bedecked
with tier after tier of objects. The medium doesn’t much matter.
Ceramics, glass, wood, basketry, metalwork are all well set-off in
such arrangements, often enhanced by bespoke lighting. Jewellery
gets a similar treatment, inside cabinets of many drawers.
These selections tell a multitude of stories at once. There is, of
course, the question of the collector’s eye. What do their choices
say about them? Do they stick to just one material or do they
mix it up? Do they go far afield, introducing historical artefacts
among the contemporary? Do they install the work according to a
simple system (red things on one shelf, blue on another) or a more
complex and subtle rhythm?
Then there are other questions, which speak as much to the
collector’s social proclivities as their aesthetic ones. Do they collect
a few people in depth as a way of supporting those artists’ creative
vision, buying as a way of giving? Or do they spread the wealth,
perhaps maintaining greater objectivity? How scholarly are they?
When you ask them about their holdings, do they remember every
name, not just the artists but the galleries where the work was
purchased, what that special wood or glaze is called? Can they
describe why an object is important, and not just why they like it?
That in turn leads to yet another set of questions, and still larger
narratives. If you add up all the contents of all the shelves of all the
collectors, you can see how the studio craft movement shifted
from its countercultural origins and expanded into a full-blown
market phenomenon. Piece by piece, price by price, onwards and
upwards, that’s how. Without these privately held repositories,
assembled in rough approximation to the logic of museums, but
shot through with a deep sense of the personal, far fewer makers
could have made it as professionals. And the field would look much
different than it does today.
The shape of the crafts today, however, is not only about what
finds its way to the shelves. It’s also the result of what doesn’t fit.
Much concern has been dedicated to craft’s uncertain status in
relation to fine art. But what really dictates the flow of opportunity
has as much to do with accommodation as it does with ideas. A
few of the major craft categories, such as furniture, stained glass,
and blacksmithing – anything that tends to be large in scale – can’t
easily be accommodated in the traditional collecting system. As
a consequence, artists working in these areas have struggled to
achieve the kind of market success that more tidily arranged media
have enjoyed. There are other ways, of course, and makers in
these areas have subsisted (occasionally thrived) on commissions
– dining sets, windows, gates, chandeliers. But there is little doubt
that it’s a tougher road.
Meanwhile, other craft fields that tend towards the large
scale, such as fibre art, have operated in ways more akin to the
Left: Jacob van der Beugel’s
North Sketch
Sequence
, Chatsworth House, stoneware
clay and hand-mirrored glass (2014). This
most personal of installations, coordinated
by Joanna Bird, is based on the DNA of the
Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, and their
son and daughter-in-law
Photo: Sylain Deleu
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