Going Public: Private Collections with Public Access

With the art market seemingly in an ever-growing bubble of growth (helmets at the ready for the inevitable burst, folks) and with record prices reached on almost a weekly basis is appears, it seems fair to question who is benefiting from this growth? Major private collectors around the world at galleries, fairs, and any given auction acquire works of art but what does that mean to the public when these pieces are installed in private homes, private land, businesses or held in a Freeport with no accessibility for the public to enjoy or research the work? Take the recent sale of Pablo Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (1955) selling for a record 179 million USD to the Qatari’s: that piece will now be out of public view indefinitely. In a contemporary age of globalization and technology, now more than ever should major private collectors with extensive collections be concerned with not only their own collections, but how their collections can serve a public good with more and more pieces being bought for private gain and disappearing from public access.

One collection in particular is doing double duty in the art world with it’s virtual access to the public. Dominique and Sylvain Levy, a pair of French collectors, have established an online platform for the public to gain access to not only their collection, but also “to give visibility to art and the artists, in particular those who are not necessarily the darlings of the auction market” (Sylvain Levy, quoted in Art Life Magazine). In the extensive catalogue here, DSLCollection, with the assistance of curator Martha Köppel-Yang, showcases 250 works by a wide range of contemporary Chinese artists, both established and new, in a comprehensive collection on view in a uniquely virtual text and tour (here).

As private collectors are considered drivers of taste rather than the traditional museums, these private collections and collectors arguably have a duty, if not responsibility, to the public to a degree to engage and to give back with their extensive collections, thus bridging the gap between the public and private sphere’s of the art market.

A private sale is rather bittersweet; though there is the excitement of a sale, there is also a twinge of sadness as the public has to say goodbye to a piece for the foreseeable future. Collectors like Dominique and Sylvain Levy do an extraordinary thing by not just opening a bricks-and-mortar collection like other private collectors, but go a step further to grant virtual access to their collection to the public around the globe. Rather than opt for a travelling show of their collection to check into institutions around the globe, the virtual tour and catalogue offer an unrestricted look into the artworks and artists.

Granted, virtual reality is not everyone’s cup of tea, and there is certainly an argument for the anonymity of a collector—which can be creatively worked around to ensure confidentiality—but the shift online is an inevitable progression in the art world as we see increasing numbers of online auctions, galleries and even auction previews that lay outside of the physicality of the sale. In the age of globalization and technology literally at our fingertips, private collectors should be mindful to deliver a collection without boundaries.

For more information on the DSLCollection, see interview with Art Plural Gallery.

See also their interview with Aqua Arts Foundation.

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