An interview with British art collector and philanthropist Candida Gertler
Una Meistere 15/12/2016
“In the times we’re living in now, it’s absolutely crucial to be responsible in how you spend the money,” says Candida Gertler, a British art collector of German heritage who currently lives in London. In 2003 Gertler, a former junior journalist for Der Spiegel, founded Outset Contemporary Art Fund together with her friend Yana Peel, who is now the director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. With a revolutionary philosophy for its time, the ambition of the new art philanthropy organisation was to change the system providing support for art. By becoming a kind of laboratory for creative philanthropy, through its projects it strived to break down, or at least lower, the wall that has always existed between business, the institutional art environment and artists themselves.
At the time when Outset was founded, there was practically no support mechanism for young artists in Great Britain, public procurements of contemporary art was dwindling, and patronage mechanisms were old-fashioned and outdated. In its almost fifteen years of existence, Outset has managed to make contemporary arts patronage stylish in business and corporate circles and realise a number of large and innovative projects supporting art, some of which have been ground-breaking initiative in the field of art patronage.
One such initiative is the Outset/Frieze Art Fair Fund, which was developed to benefit the Tate Collection. This was the first time in the history of art and patronage when an art fair collaborated with a museum. Thanks to this project, the Tate’s national collection acquired works of art that it could not otherwise have been able to afford. The artists, for their part, benefitted from the institutional acknowledgment so important for furthering their careers. With the participation of the Outset/Frieze Art Fair Fund, in the span of a decade (2003–2014) the Tate increased its collection by 100 works of art bought with over one and a half million pounds sterling. These included work by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, Mark Leckey and Simon Starling as well as Pawel Althamer, Olafur Eliasson, Martin Boyce and others.
Steve McQueen. Giardini, 2009. Video still. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
Outset has also supported procurements of artwork and individual projects at the National Gallery in London, the Israel Museum, the Barbican, Sadler’s Wells, the Hayward Gallery, the Haus der Kunst in Munich and elsewhere. In 2009 it created the Outset Acquisition Fund for London’s Royal College of Art, an annual £10,000 fund for the purchase of works from graduating students and for the Outset Prize studio bursary. In 2009 Outset also supported British artist Steve McQueen’s Giardini project in the British pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale. The fund is currently helping to expand Britain’s Government Art Collection and has, in collaboration with the mayor of London, begun a project called Studiomakers. The goal of this new initiative is to work together with property developers to create new and affordable studio spaces for artists in London, thereby concentrating creative energy in the city and not letting it flow away to Berlin, Brussels, and other European cities that have already drawn in many artists due to rising rent prices in the Capital.
New art has always been a priority for Outset, and the fund collaborates only with public art institutions such as national museums and public institutions. Outset’s network of partners and supporters has now expanded beyond Britain’s borders, both in the institutional art environment as well as the business world. But Outset’s patrons – who already number in the several hundreds – are not just “donors”. By regularly organising tours of museums and galleries around the world on the fund’s behalf, visiting artists in their studios, meeting with curators, art historians, museum directors and so on, they also become participants in the very process of art. Many of the fund’s patrons have gone on to become art collectors themselves and participate in various projects supporting art.
In addition to Great Britain, Outset currently has branches in Germany, Israel, India, the Netherlands, Greece, Scotland and Estonia. At the beginning of next year, Outset Latvia will be launched in Riga under the kim? Contemporary Art Centre and its director Zane Čulkstēna.
I meet Candida Gertler at The Beaumont in London. The hotel is known for the special room created by British artist Antony Gormley. The room is a functional work of art, meaning that one can actually spend the night in the work of art. Easily noticeable from the outside, the room resembles a gigantic robot made out of Lego blocks. Gormley is also one of Outset’s supporters. In fact, it was in his studio that the Studiomakers project was announced to the public in March of this year.
How did you arrive at art? Or maybe the other way around – how did art reach you?
I was living in London at a time when so much was happening there – the Tate Modern was built and Frieze was just about to start. Contemporary art was very much in people's consciousness. I read a lot about it, and I fell for it through a project I discovered called fig-1 (an experimental project of exhibitions initiated in 2000 by Mark Francis and Jay Jopling – Ed.), which showed fifty contemporary artists in fifty weeks. That was really the time when I learned that this was an energy I was very attracted to. I wasn’t collecting art yet then. I didn't know that much about contemporary art, but I was very curious and I wanted to be part of something that was actually happening at that moment. I wanted to explore more and also to share with other people. I always said to my friend, “Just join me!” I think it's simply in my genes – I have this thing for wanting to share with other people.
One of the key moments for me was being part of a charitable organistion called British Friends of the Art Museums of Israel. It was a very established group of collectors, and they were trying to reach the new generation of people who could support them. I was asked to join them and also to see how we could get younger people involved. I realised that for me to get excited I would need to understand more about the local art scene, in order to understand the situation museums found themselves in Israel. Otherwise it would all just be something distant and foreign for me. And I found that everybody reacted very positively at exploring what was going on here behind the scenes. So, from the lectures that I attended, from the courses that I completed, I got to know people who were doing interesting things. And I just asked them if they would agree to share their knowledge with others who don't know anything about it. We would gather a little group of people, and we would go and start exploring something together.
How did you encourage people who hadn’t had any prior connection to the art world to join the group?
I baked a very good apple cake at home, and I invited some very good lecturers. It all happened in my living room. When you invite people into your home, you have social contact, which is a nice thing to do and it happens easily. However, I always said, “Please come to my house and we will have a very interesting lecture, and maybe you are interested and can support a little project for the lecturer who is giving us the lecture.” That’s how it started. I started putting together some serious lectures, and I remember that I charged 350 pounds for five lectures. And I found fifteen people who came into my living room and listened to them. And slowly, slowly we raised the money for a catalogue project and other things.
And then Frieze started. I was introduced to the directors of the fair, and we sat together thinking about how we could support something very fresh that was coming to London. And we talked about the possibility of connecting institutional collecting to the art fair by means of a very serious panel of curators who would be invited from outside institutions to join the Tate team. And that’s how the Outset–Frieze–Tate fund came together. So, the outside curators joined the Tate team, and we raised 150,000 pounds in a very bold fundraising exercise. And it worked, people were up for it. We launched the event at Lord and Lady Foster's house, which was, of course, an incredible moment, also in terms of being given access to their private home. And besides, the Lord and Lady Foster are very inspiring personalities themselves.
Was the collaboration with the Tate your first serious project?
It was one of the first, and it was definitely an absolute milestone for Outset and put us on the map. We had done something really important and at the right time for a very big institution that needed support. And I think it was doing the right thing in a very serious and very nimble way. Without much overhead, without much bureaucracy, being very direct and implementing the project in an efficient way. It was more about impact investment, which is a familiar term nowadays, but I don’t think the term even existed back then. In a way, it was a mixture of high-level crowdfunding, because we raised 150,000 pounds from 30 patrons and impact investment, and we clearly showed where this money was being invested. In other words, every last penny was used to acquire significant works of art and to cover the expenses of the international curators who had been invited to select the artwork during the fair.
Because we came in with 150,000 pounds, we put together the packages of the works we wanted to buy. And sometimes we also had incredibly generous gallerists who understood that we really want to do something important, and they were very accommodating, helping us with discounts for museum collections. For example, in some cases we were maybe 500 pounds short, and they said, “OK, this is important, it's part of the bigger picture.” And I think the other thing about Outset is that we always try to be very creative about how we put together projects about giving. It's never like, “OK, give me some money and I can go buy some art.” Everyone has to be inspired, new work has to emerge from it, collections; the public has to benefit from it. It's never one dimension – it always has a lot of dimensions and is always win-win for everyone.
With the Tate, how exactly did the artwork selection process take place? Did you provide a grant and the Tate had the final say? And did you do research before then, or did the curators basically go on a shopping spree of sorts at Frieze?
There was always very serious research. First of all, the team of curators was very well informed about what the museum’s needs were. The invited curators got a longlist of gaps in the collection and the artists that the Tate had always wanted to have. But funnily enough, very rarely was the list really observed. It was a great starting point, but the curators were always very accomplished professionals themselves. The process itself and the conversations were fascinating.
David Shrigley. Untitled, 2004. Purchased for Tate using funds provided by the 2005 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2006
The curators usually arrived the day before Frieze started, because they have access to the fair after 7 p.m. on the evening before it opens, while it’s still being set up. Sometimes they were there until midnight, looking around. And then the next morning, when we met at Frieze at 8 a.m., the preselections had already been done. But very often films and performances weren't really activated until the opening of the fair, and the next day was always full of surprises. Our list, which was like a shortlist, very often changed. The thought process was very rigorous and very serious. So, there was serious preparation to understanding what the collection is, and I would also say it was very interesting in that the Tate was so open to share their strategies. I feel that the Tate is a great museum not only because of its collection, but also because it shares knowledge incredibly generously with everyone.
But the gaps you were filling were mainly focused on emerging artists?
Yes, absolutely. But the team of curators was always very responsive – at times when the museum’s financial situation in terms of public resources was very difficult, the curators were keen on maybe buying a little bit more established artists than the very young and emerging ones. It was always very much about responding to the times we were working in – the more difficult the public money situation got, the more considered the curators were about how to spend the given money because it was money that was very much needed and they became a little more risk averse.
Do representatives from Outset also get involved when decisions have to be made about whether to buy this or that artist’s work?
No. Sometimes there’s a reception the evening before, an informal setting during which the curators share their ideas, but the final decision is always announced only the next morning. Outset funding is very hands-off – we never try to influence curators. We work with very serious institutions and curators, and our idea is not like, “Oh, we give you the money and you have to do this or that.” No, it’s absolutely free money, with no strings attached to it. And I am very proud of this level of seriousness – it's really about professionals making decisions, not pampering and coddling.
What kind of people are in the Outset family, and what kinds of backgrounds do they come from?
It's really mixed. We have a young group now – forty young professionals who range from banking and all other kinds of professions to the art world itself. So, it's very varied in terms of background, nationality and also professions. The only thing that really distinguishes Outset patrons is that they are interested in emerging arts and want to go far beyond blockbuster exhibitions at the big museums. You know, there are certain art groups or clubs where it’s all about seeing the most important things in London or abroad, and we are very different from that. We also include in our list the important exhibitions at the Tate, the National Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery, etc., but we don’t cover the sort of the exhibitions that you need to be able to, say, talk about over dinner. Because you can do that on your own. We try to really open the doors that are difficult to find on your own. We try to find the artists who’ll have exhibitions at the Tate or represent their country at the Biennale maybe five, six, seven years from now. And we’ve had a lot of wonderful moments during the life of Outset in which artists we know from many years ago are now representing their country at the Venice Biennale. And we just keep in touch, keep supporting their projects and so on....
It’s also a big responsibility to invest in an emerging artist, because you have to invest in the right person. And, if you give them something, it will somehow affect the artist’sfuture career, and so therefore it’s very important to give to the right person.
Absolutely, but it's no risk in the sense that we do not expect any return on our investment. Everything we give is given and stays given forever. The only return is a sort of success, you know, if you think about are they going to be successful. But in any case, the risk is minimal because all our choices are guided by very professional curators.
Jeremy Deller (b. 1966), Alan Kane (b. 1961) for the OFT. Souped Up Tea Urn & Teapot (Dartford 2004), 2004. Purchased for Tate using funds provided by the 2003 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2004
Always. Always by the curator. Or else the artist approaches us, but he or she has a curator who works with him or her. So, it’s never random – it’s not like, “Oh, we like this artist, let's invest in her or him.” It’s really support rather than investment. Of course, it is an investment, but not in the classical way of having to see a monetary return. At the moment, when we give money we are convinced that the quality of the work is very high, and what happens afterwards is fate – it's kind of the artist's destiny. We can only help, facilitate it and hope that he or she will make the best out of it. But we always look very seriously at which institution is proposing the project, who is the curator of it, and how many community outreach projects or programmes are attached to it. If it’s just some private venue that’s maybe accessible to the public, we are not interested in investing. It has to become part of a serious narrative led by professionals. So, I find that our risk is actually very small, and I really feel that the majority of our projects are great successes. They enter the great collections or become part of the narrative that is very meaningful in viewing the history of art. I think that, even from the investment point of view, it’s the lowest risk anyone who wants to participate in the art world can actually take.
Today, when so many collectors are opening their own art spaces, how do you see the role of public institutions now, and how will it change (or maybe not change) in the future?
I really feel that without the public institutions the whole ecosystem of art would be obsolete. I think art could not continue in a serious and meaningful way if there were no strong public institutions. Because it’s the public institutions that are, as far as it's humanly possible, trying to be objective and to be very much interested in the academic furthering of the historical progression of art.
Undeniably, private collectors have incredible freedom, and they are usually fantastic personalities who’ve managed to pull this off, and they add an incredible amount to the ecosystem of art. I think the serious private collectors are almost always also involved in public institutions, and those who dismiss them are actually missing a very important factor in what they are doing themselves. I’m sure that nothing makes a collector more proud than if an artist whom he or she is nurturing (and it’s a very unique opportunity for an artist to be nurtured by a private collector) enters the public arena. Let's be honest, every private collector's dream is that Nicholas Serota or Udo Kittelmann from the Tate or the The Berlin National Gallerie comes knocking on their door and says, “Please give me your collection.” That’s really a dream for everyone. Many would actually consider giving them their collections, because it’s validation that you’ve really managed to understand the history of art.
For me, one of the most impressive moments in private–public dealership was Anthony d’Offay with the Artist Rooms (The collection of 725 works of post-war and contemporary art given by d’Offay to the state is one of the largest private gifts ever received by English and Scottish art institutions – Ed.). That was an incredible moment of public–private collaboration, which has given Scotland and England treasures beyond the ability of any public institution to buy.
And we are very proud even of those 100 works of art that Outset gave to the Tate. For example, through that project we gave the Tate the first-ever performance in its collection. It was a piece by the Slovakian artist Roman Ondák. The Tate had never owned one before - our fund enabled them to do so – maybe it was too risky before. Now you go down to the Tanks and this whole part of the Tate is dedicated to performance.
Mark Leckey. Made in 'Eaven, 2004. Purchased using funds provided by the 2004 Outset / Frieze Art Fair Fund to benefit the Tate Collection 2005
At the same time, though, a collector always has this dilemma – if I give my collection to a museum, I want to be sure it will be properly preserved and exhibited and will not just sit in storage.
The problem is that most private collections will never be accepted by public institutions. Private collections have very few works public collections really want or need, in comparison with the rest of the collection.
But I still want to disagree with you. The German collector Egidio Marzona, who began collecting in the 1960s and amassed one of the largest conceptualist, minimalist and Arte Povera collections in the world, donated it to the Berlin State Museums and the Hamburger Bahnhof in 2002, which exhibited the art in an extensive series of exhibitions over the course of three years. And Marzona is by no means the only one....
But very few collections are like his. You know, many collectors have 2000, 3000, 6000 works of art, and if they go, for example, to the Tate and say, “I’m giving this collection to you,” in most cases the answer will be, “Sorry, we cannot take it. We are interested in maybe 100 works from your collection.”
Going back to the risk taken on by Outset – we bought 100 works of art for the Tate, they all are in the Tate collection, and there are another maybe 100 works of art in museum collections all over the world that come from different activities organised by Outset. There is not a single piece of artwork these institutions own with Outset that is not relevant for the public. So, the risk for me is tiny. I always laugh that the Outset collection can be found at the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich, at the National Gallery in Berlin, at the Tate in London – the best restorers, the best storage, the best curators are looking after our collection. We don't own anything legally, but we own everything mentally, ideologically, it's part of our story.
When somebody asks me why they should join Outset, I always answer that I think this is just the most efficient way of allocating your philanthropic art budget. Because we have basically zero overflow, we have nothing that goes into a storage room and then just eats up money or manpower. Everything’s always used to the last scrap, and every single penny gets stretched to the maximum to benefit everyone.
The Outset–Frieze–Tate project is terminated now. We stopped at 100 works of art. The last purchase for the Outset fund was in 2014, when we reached 100 works of art. In 2015 we just celebrated those 100 works of art, and this year the fund was taken over by a corporate sponsor, WME | IMG. We basically took the project and said thank you very much; we finished with the 100 works of art and were happy to give the Tate complete autonomy in finding a new sponsor. My main objective was for it to be continued, and I said this year to the new sponsors who have already acquired 10 works in 2016, “You have 90 more works of art to buy, and then you can pass it on.” I hope another 100 works of art will be added.
Shezad Dawood (1974). Wolf Panel V, 2013 (acrylic on vintage textile). Purchased for the Government Art Collection using funds provided by the Outset / Government Art Collection Fund
Why did you decide to stop?
Because I felt that 100 is a beautiful round number, and I wasn't sure if I could sustain it for another 100 works of art. Because there are many other projects that we are doing now, projects that only we can do. And I was really convinced that the Tate project was so good that it could find another sponsor. It's simple, it's proven, it has done great things, and it has a great reputation in the world of collecting, and now it has a wonderful opportunity to link a public institution with the commercial sphere in a most serious way. Normally, the public institution and the art fair are kind of like oil and water – they don't really work together very well. But here we managed to keep it going at such a great level of integrity. And I was sure that they would find another sponsor and our attention could go into something else.
For example, at the moment we’re working with the Government Art Collection, which is the collection of artwork owned by the British government. A sort of cultural diplomacy. This is the artwork that is displayed at British embassies and public institutions all over the world. And when there’s a new ambassador or a new minister, they go to the Government Art Collection and can choose new works of art for their offices. For example, right at the moment we’re changing the artwork at the embassy in Paris because there’s a new ambassador. And we’re doing the same in China, too.
Compared with the historical heritage that has formed the national art collection for centuries, there’s relatively little contemporary art in the collection, and that’s due to the limited budget. It took me a while to figure out how I could make this interesting for the collection and also for artists. So, what I said was this: OK, we will give an equal amount of money to twelve artists from Outset's list – artists we have supported in the past – for a new production. Their age has varied from 70-year-old Richard Wentwoth to Nicole Wermers, who is in her 30s at the time and was a Turner Prize nominee in 2015. Each of them used this money differently. For example, Wentworth created a work of art for the Havanna Biennial.
But my conditions were that each of these artists must meet with the curator of the Government Art Collection, and together they need to choose one of his or her own works of art, something from their existing portfolio, to add to the collection. This work of art would then represent that artist in the national collection. When I turned to the artists with this idea, every artist was on board within 48 hours and everybody said yes. And the list of artists is absolutely incredible. So, now we’re working with the Government Art Collection to choose the right works of art. It's a great mix of artists, a mix of generations. And twelve important works of art will be added, which will probably be worth double of what we are going to spend on the project. Nobody loses, everybody wins. We’re involved with twelve new productions, and that's what makes it interesting.
We are committed to doing this project for three years now, and hopefully we’ll be able to find a sponsor who will take it over. Maybe one of your readers? It's really this kind of imaginative philanthropy that has an impact on me. Thinking about how we can make something, how we can tell a story around something – that’s what’s the most exciting. You know, if I would go to my patrons and say, “Can we raise 150,000 pounds for the Government Art Collection and give it to them?” What would be the next step? They would go shopping, and then what? Boring....
Who is the ideological centre of Outset – the team at each individual branch, or is it sometimes the patrons, too?
It comes from the team but is focused on the ever evolving interests of our patrons. But they’re always reacting to something; we never invent anything. We never come out with new ideas when it comes to what to create. There are so many institutions, so many amazing things happening that need help; we don't need another Outset museum. Another museum is not needed, there are already so many. And we always try to maximise our investment by thinking creatively. It's like you have an ecosystem of the arts in front of you, and what you have to do is to think carefully about how you can support this or that. You can't do nothing – you need to focus, you need to really figure something out, to be convinced and go forward. Otherwise nothing happens. I think this is crucial in the times we’re living in right now. It's absolutely crucial to be responsible in how you spend the money.
Especially considering that it would be difficult to call the current ecosystem of the arts healthy.
I agree. It's too commercialised and difficult to understand for the wider public. But nothing works without the public realm. Everything becomes worthless, because it doesn't mean anything. Because it’s devoid of historical context. We need to keep the historical context really strong. If you go to any private collection, it’s only going to be as strong as the public collections are. If your artwork is not represented in the context of art history, what does it mean? It's worthless. I’ve never had the intention of Outset having a building, a gallery. We’re an absolutely reactive team on whatever is needed.
Tell me about your latest project, Studiomakers, in which Antony Gormley is also involved.
So again, if we’re thinking about the time when we did the Outset–Frieze–Tate project, what was very important was that the Tate had a new building. But it wasn’t easy to challenge and complete their contemporary collection. It was really important that somebody said, “Here’s the money and you can take a risk, because it's private, not public money, and you can be quick and react actively.” So, we looked at what was needed at that time.
Now we’re acting on the study that came out in 2014 by the Mayor’s office saying that we will lose 3500 artist studios in London over the next five years. Which is a third of what is needed for the creative industries to flourish. And again I was thinking, we know a lot of property developers, I myself come from a family of property developers, and our network of people at Outset is very connected, too – to finance, to real estate, to banking, to everything that’s needed to make property developers think about the integration of studios in a viable way. And at the moment London is undergoing huge development, we have developments of tens of thousands of flats, we have new areas in the city. There’s an incredible burst of properties that are being built. But when these developments happen, they very often become like ghost cities – beautiful and very luxurious flats, but they have no life to them.
We know that life comes from creativity, and we also know from the property developers themselves that they very often don't really know how to deal with the ground-floor space of their buildings. They want to rent out the flats, but then they maybe put in a bank on the ground floor, or maybe a Costa Coffee or Starbucks, a Tesco Express for food. But nobody wants to live in a place like that. Especially if you’ve spent so much money on a flat, you want something cultural, you want a nice restaurant that has something very personal. So, these chain stores are OK – we need them – but if you mix in a milliner, an artist, a little craft shop for presents, then it's already a different story. Then it becomes a mixed economy, and we understand that very well.
We’ve worked with over 200 artists and, believe it or not, the artists who have done commissions for the Tate’s Turbine Hall are looking for space now because they can't afford their studios anymore. Studio rates are going up, or else the artists are forced to leave because their leases are coming to an end due to those developments. And these are prominent artists. I call them our national treasures. These people represent us at biennials, they give us works of art that millions of people go to see. They attract cultural tourism, and a huge economy is connected to that. Every fourth tourist says that culture is their main reason for coming to London. So, it's hugely important economically as well as socially and, I think, culturally as well.
We felt this in the same way as we did fifteen years ago, when we brought together people from all over the spectrum – from banking to real estate, from South London to North London – and we brought them together around the table and said, “You need to support the best gallery in England, the Tate!” Now we’re bringing together investors and developers and saying, “Help London to stay London!” We want your assets, we want the spaces that you don’t know what to do with. We’re not against development; it's not like, “Oh, you’re the bad capitalist.” No, we love development, we love investment in our city. But we think like, “You know what, don't forget the group of people who actually brought London to the point where everybody wants to be here.”
So, if you’re a big developer and you develop 20,000 flats, give a small percentage to the creatives. Let them pay 9–18 pounds per square foot all inclusive, not 120, and make your place the place where everybody wants to be. Because if your place becomes like Knightsbridge, where you have mainly shopping during the day, but where nothing happens in the night-time – who wants to look around Harrods at night? Nobody. It's really horrible. So we want careful planning, and we’re working together with the Mayor of London, with the architects. These are created partnerships, none of us has worked together before. The Mayor's office already knew about this situation years ago, but unless you bring the partners together, nothing happens. Because the artists are going to say, “Oh, my God, what a problem!” And the real estate people will say, “Artists? What artists?” They don't really know what artists are. But these people are highly intelligent, highly creative in their own ways – architecture, development – they’re creators, they create spaces, but then they make a lot of money and it goes to sponsor, for example, a show at the Royal Academy of Arts. They don't know what else to do with it. I say that this kind of sponsorships could be done by other companies, companies that have no real estate assets. But if you have real estate, give us your real estate, let us work with you not to create a big launching party where you’ll pay 100,000 pounds for PR exercises, but instead give it content, make a story – it's all about giving people opportunities.
What is Gormley’s role in this project?
Only that he’s very supportive of the project and he gave us a space to launch it, and he is himself thinking a lot about the problem. He says: ”Many areas in London have been bought, developed and abandoned.” How right he is.
How big is the Outset family now? If I understood correctly, you started with 15 members?
It's growing, especially because the new generation of patrons is really active. Now we have around 300 registred members all around the world. And we have around 2000 people in our database who really know what Outset is. The youngest members are around 20+ years old, and our range goes up into the 70s. But probably the main age group is between 35–50.
Steve McQueen. Giardini, 2009. Video still. Courtesy the artist and Thomas Dane Gallery, London
And how many of them become collectors themselves?
I would say that the number is pretty big. I can't really put a percentage on it, but many of our patrons who’ve discovered art through Outset become addicted to it in some way. Many of them support art in different ways; many support trips to their country for curators and are involved with Outset through residencies, they become trustees of institutions, etc. Everybody brings what he or she have and tries to be really supportive.
Latvia has also just joined the Outset family. And this seems a little surprising, considering that arts patronage is still in its infancy there.
The philosophy of Outset is that we are very happy for every instance of serious support for art. It doesn't always have to be a metropolis. Of course, it’s wonderful to be here in London, and in places where the development is already strong, we feel that Outset is a great addition. But where it’s not so strong, we feel that this is really pioneering work. Therefore, we are really interested in places where not so much is going on yet, because there we can really have impact. And for me, every project realised on a serious level with good-quality artists is a gain for Outset. It just adds to the family, adds to the network, and this is also very impactful. If we go somewhere where there’s already a lot happening, we always try to do things in a little bit different way. A difference can mean making something on a much smaller scale but in a place where people have a very strong desire.
I visited Latvia and, knowing that they were thinking about opening Outset there, I wanted to understand the art scene a little bit, to understand where these people come from and what they’re doing. And what I saw was very convincing. What is important to me is not the quantity, but the quality of things. And from experience, we add value to the art world by exploring new things and bringing new people to the table. Going back to the collectors and to the people who are already so deep into the arts doesn’t bring much added value. I feel that for Outset it's very much about really uniting new audiences, about bringing in new people. Both from the artistic side and also from the sponsors’ and supporters’ side. These are the most rewarding exercises, really.
I’ve always felt that Outset needs a very healthy mix of working with something very established as well as with the grassroots. I think Outset is very much about spectra – from publications to big projects, from the East End to the National Gallery, from Estonia and Latvia to London. I think it works so well because it’s so varied, it's always interesting. If you join Outset, you can travel the world and always go somewhere with Outset.
I don't believe in being everywhere and nowhere; I believe in concentrating. But, thanks to amazing partners, who are all the directors of Outset, we have managed to spread out, but in a really serious way. Everyone who runs Outset in the different countries is committed, and I am so lucky to have an incredible team of colleagues who are all independent in their own way. We all have a need for quality, we all have the same aim, and there are certain rules that we all stick to, but the reason why I have local departments is because I don't understand everything that is needed in a specific local context. I believe a local partnership and I believe a local director if he or she is telling me that the level of support in their country will be “x”. I don't know what people can spend there; I only know that here in London I ask 5000 pounds per person for a first-time donation. The big donors, of course, give big sums. But the first-time entrance level has stayed the same since its inception.
So, you’re convinced that art has the power to change something in people?
Definitely. Always. There is not a single person I know who is indifferent to art if they open themselves up a little bit. Then it’s an explosion.