I’ve been turning out my shelves, ready for Open Studios in a couple of days (invitation here). Trying to decide what is ‘current work’, what is ‘archive’. What to keep, what to sell off or throw away. It’s difficult, because sometimes dead-ends turn out to be the later germ of new work.
Sometimes the selection isn’t about ‘artistic quality’ (an interesting subject, but not for now..), but more about what fits the current ‘contemporary craft’ narrative – simply, what galleries want at the moment. I went to the William Nicholson retrospective at the Royal Academy: no-one was looking at the ‘history pictures’ that made his name and fortune. We were all crammed in to the galleries showing work that never really sold in his own lifetime. I loved Miss Simpson’s Boots.(fourth image down on the link).
I’ve often made large quantities of work for installations, too, where you are paid for making it, and the work is not sold, but returned at the end of the show. So for some makers, storage is a big deal: I know one Professor of Ceramics with one studio crammed with work back from shows, one (much smaller) where she makes new work. Sometimes the work is sold afterwards, although this is usually only for the very well known. Gormley’s figures from the 2007 Event Horizon go for £100,000+, apparently, with 2-3 sold each year, and the provenance being part of the package. “Yes, this was on the top of the Hayward Gallery”….
It’s the artist or maker, rather than the curators or gallery owners, that decide what ‘unpopular’ work gets kept, and so what’s available to the future. And, of course, the ‘patrons’. People who buy work year in, year out; often direct from the maker; what they like themselves, not necessarily what’s going to go well in a commercial gallery. Like Anthony Shaw, whose unparalleled collection of Gordon Baldwin’s ceramics is now on loan at the York Art Gallery.
So I’m feeling more optimistic about the Open Studio, about showing unfinished, new, odd, old, ex-installation work. The people who come are really doing their bit for the future. Thanks!