Dr. Simona Makselienė

You mentioned China. You can see find a gazing toward East not just in art, but also in other fields. Why do you think this happens, and why now? Is this a search for something new and different?

The answer could be very sophisticated, or also very laconic: money. There are lots of millionaires in the Eastern region. In the Arab nations, in India, and elsewhere. They want to acquire this extra quality in life, and invest their money in art and culture by becoming collectors. So my first answer would be, money. My second answer: There is a huge population in the East, so it’s clear that, proportionally, there are also lots of talented artists who entice people to search for them. Yet that is a secondary reason.

If we look at thing historically, we find that art centers have always changed their location every so often. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Mecca for art was Paris. After the Second World War the epicenter moved to New York. Right now it’s moving to Beijing. International galleries and auctions houses are opening branches in this region, too. For example, there is the extensive Louvre project in Abu Dhabi, and so on.

In your lecture you talked about primary and secondary art markets. Perhaps you could briefly explain what these are and how they differ from one another?

A primary art market is the platform where a work of art is sold for the first time. That is, it comes either from an artist’s studio or from the gallery that represents the artist, but under the condition that the work has never been for sale before. In a secondary art market, works of art are offered that have been purchased before, the price has been recorded in a database, and the word is once again put “under the gavel,” finding a new owner. This is a natural process—for works of art, “traveling” is part of their essence. If only because owners don’t live forever. And that’s how works arrive at auction houses.

You also mentioned the British artist Damien Hirst, who changed this order of primary and second markets.

Yes, Damien Hirst is an example of how both markets can get blended together. He broke the theoretical model by organizing his own auction, in 2008. Following this precedent, galleries and auctions houses began to question their role. Yet not long after Hirst’s move the economic crisis began, and for a time the normal development of art processes ceased. Right now I’d say that a recuperation is taking place, rather than a movement forward. Yet Hirst’s auctions definitely made us think about the order of things. But the question here is about the international market, not the Baltic states.

When researching and studying the world’s art collectors who have influenced the movement of the art market, have you drawn any conclusions about the character traits that a collector must possess? Because undoubtedly a collector’s personality plays a big role in their success, and this must be taken into account when analyzing the principles of their activities.

That’s an interesting question. A job for the psychologists. Collectors are all very different from one another. Art collections embody the owner’s personality, like an extension of their ego. I think it’s important that a collector participates in forming his own collection. He can consult with professionals, of course; yet if he hires curators or art historians, then an extensive and valuable collection can be formed, though behind it you can no longer see a personality. I can no longer see mistakes, which are actually one of the most interesting things. 

In addition, I could emphasize three important character traits that a good collector must possess. First of all, he or she must be blessed with an aesthetic instinct. They don’t necessarily need to be educated in art history. A collector can be a doctor, a mathematician, a technician—it doesn’t matter. But the aesthetic instinct is something primordial, similar to a sense of smell. Second, a collector must be flexible, though backbone is important too, otherwise the mayhem of so many available artworks will lead to a kaleidoscope of art, instead of a selected collection. Third, it’s important not to be part of the crowd. The world’s famous collectors are united by the fact that they have been a few steps ahead of others in their choices. And in this way they have become trailblazers. 

Do you think private collectors should display their trophies publicly? Should people be allowed to look into their collections? Because I get the feeling that a work of art isn’t the same thing as, say, privately acquired furniture, which is everybody’s own business. It seems as if a work of art possesses something that at least theoretically gives everyone the right to look at it.

It’s clear that a collector is entitled to decide whether or not to publicly display a collection. Yet from the standpoint of a work of art—it’s much healthier if the work is shown. In a sense, a work of art is similar to a plot of land. Land can never belong to somebody completely. There is only the opportunity to be the owner of the land for a given time. The situation is similar with art: you have the chance to acquire an artifact for a given time period, but it is impossible to become its absolute owner. Works of art doesn’t die, they always outlive their owners.