The Guardian’s Jonathan Jones tries to tackle the knotty question of who has more influence on the canonization of art: collectors or institutions. With looming budget cuts to museums in the UK, can Contemporary British art continue to thrive solely on private support? The Times’s Waldemar Jauszczak thinks so. He points to Charles Saatchi. But even Saatchi has begun plans to turn his private collection into a public one. So which comes first, art as commodity or public trust?
There is, absolutely, a case to be made that art is a commodity, full stop. Britain’s famous artists believe that more openly than anyone. But the truth is more complicated (surprise).
The art marketplace is in reality a splendid example of a mixed economy. The rise of the Hirst generation depended on constant interaction of private and public enthusiasm. Above all, it depended on the Turner prize, whose authority depended in turn on its being staged by a public museum.
As the new British art took root in popular culture, so public support for it increased, with well-meaning bodies (“quangos”, I guess) commissioning public art.
If we agree, as apparently everyone does, that Britain’s modern art boom is a national glory, then we have to acknowledge the place of public generosity in making it possible. Above all, the authority of Tate has made it modern art’s Bank of England. And all the Tate galleries are free.
Who created Britain’s modern art boom, Saatchi or Serota? (Jonathan Jones/Guardian)