By Dominique Hunter
If you haven’t already then now is as good a time as any to start collecting local art. I can certainly understand the hesitation most persons have about making fine art purchases, as it can be quite overwhelming for even the most experienced collector. So where do you even start? Well, as simple as it might seem, the best place to start is with what you like.
Start thinking about the colour schemes you gravitate towards the most; ask yourself what subject matter you’d like to see on the walls of your home or on your shelves and table tops; but most importantly be open to discovering new things along the way. From there you can slowly whittle away the things you’re not a huge fan of and come to a general idea of what you’re looking for in a fine art piece.
Before we continue it’s important to understand that collecting art in Guyana is quite unlike collecting art in hubs like New York or Miami. There is no defined structure or system that allows newbies to tap into this often overlooked sector of our country. Who determines which artwork is worthy of acquisition and how do they measure “collectability”? Who is there to help potential collectors navigate the tricky waters of acquiring art or to even underscore the importance of collecting in the first place?
Why bother to collect art in a society that nurtures every other area except the creative arts? Does it even make sense if the vast majority of the populace has not been educated to have an appreciation for art? Of course! Art is the cornerstone of every society. It’s just unfortunate that most Guyanese seem to have forgotten that somewhere along the way. However, a nudge in the right direction should be enough to (slowly) set things into motion and get us back on the right track.
You wouldn’t find someone in Guyana bidding US$30,000 for an original work of art simply because we haven’t been trained to see the value of investing in art. Persons would more willingly invest that money in real estate, starting a new taxi service or any venture that would halfway guarantee a quick return. Art doesn’t work like that. It can take years; decades even, before the work of an artist appreciates significantly. Sometimes it doesn’t even happen in the artist’s lifetime. And that’s okay. Serious collectors (most of them at least) don’t get into this to make a quick buck; they understand that they’re making a long-term investment. It’s much the same for the first-time collector. Initial acquisitions tend to be small and inexpensive works by emerging artists, as they gradually make their way to higher priced works. Ultimately, your budget will determine which artists are in your league. And eventually you won’t be making acquisitions based solely on your financial limitations, but rather your connection with the work of art.
Of all the excuses I’ve heard regarding why Guyanese hardly collect art, the most popular would be, “Only certain people collect art.” What they really meant to say was “Only bourgeoisie people collect art.” Believe it or not, people still hold on to that myth as fact. The next person’s spending power shouldn’t deter you from investing in art, however small your initial acquisition might be. If you do enough research into our local art scene you will find artists whose works are priced at various levels to match most persons’ income. Of course it wouldn’t be priced as low as the GY$1200 print you found in some obscure Robb Street store. But there also wouldn’t be 100,000 copies of it floating around the world. If you must have that picture of the bowl of fruits, at least let it be an original.
A great place to start for first time collectors would be the annual graduation exhibition held by students of the E.R. Burrowes School of Art. The content of the work on display is diverse and most times include still life and landscape paintings, abstract paintings, figure and portrait drawings, ceramics, sculptures etc. The works are usually very reasonably priced and your support means they get to continue making and improving the quality of their work. Your purchase buys them some time to figure out the next move post-art school and you go home with the piece you really wanted. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
The National Gallery of Art (Castellani House) is another great place that should be on every collector’s “go to” list. They host exhibitions quite regularly and most times the works are available for purchase. Instead of buying directly from the artist (as in the case of the Burrowes art graduates) you would be buying through the gallery. They would be able to walk you through the process and answer any questions you might have about the artist and the work in question. For the more serious collectors, you can feel confident about your acquisition knowing that the piece has been “shown” in a reputable gallery thereby increasing its value almost off the bat.
Regardless of the route you choose, whether buying directly from the artist or through the gallery, recognize that you, the collector, have the power to put Guyana back on the map when it comes to regional fine art production. Most times artists are discouraged from producing work simply because no one is willing to buy. The art making process is quite expensive and having a studio full of unsold paintings year after year does very little to encourage the production of even more paintings. Invest in someone’s art career and observe the domino effect as things gradually shift into place in the artist’s own practice and eventually Guyana’s regional standing.
Let’s start having meaningful conversations again. More specifically, let’s start talking about the importance of art and try to assess our position within the region. Maybe we could discuss our favourite local artist’s progress, whether or not their style has changed and the implications of that change. Then we can hopefully be less dismissive of art we don’t immediately recognize or understand. Maybe then we can also begin to challenge our brain to think far beyond what is presented before us, to possibly draw out interpretations even the artist hadn’t considered before. Let’s reject the mass produced, generic prints of snow-capped mountains and sceneries far removed from our own physical landscape that are being sold by big name household stores. Instead, go forward in confidence knowing that your acquisition is contributing to the furtherance of a local artist’s creative practice and bolstering Guyana’s image as a country invested in and knowledgeable of its own culture.