August 27, 2015
Renegade Collective

Art for All


POSTED 27 August 2015

A gallery space with white walls and grey floors and a bright orange and silver zig zag wall art
Photography by DOCQMENT

For the uninitiated, the notion of owning art could well reside in a realm of stuffy sophistication, coupled with caviar and cravats.

“I think that people get their idea about what art is from weird Hollywood movies or Antiques Roadshow,” laments Oliver Watts, codirector of Sydney’s Chalk Horse gallery. “The thing is that it’s not all connoisseurs and people smoking pipes…You should really treat gallery shows like any art form. Like going to a gig, reading a photography book or going to the theatre. You’re allowed to go just to look.”

But for those raring and ready to buy, “sticker shock” – the moment of wanting art but almost dying from a heart attack when you see the price tag – can pose a significant barrier. One that a number of initiatives around the world are doing their best to break down. For more than a decade, the UK has been running Own Art, a government-funded scheme adopted by more than 250 galleries, which allows art buyers to spread the cost of their purchase over 10 months with an interest-free loan. Similar schemes in the Netherlands and Tasmania have also caused a welcome disruption – all of which piqued the interest of Paul Becker, CEO and founder of arts publishing business, 10 Group.

So when the City of Sydney called for ideas for their first-ever Cultural Policy, Paul added a similar concept into the mix. With interest-free art loans one of the most popular suggestions, the local council agreed to seed-fund the idea with AU$60,000 and Art Money was born. Working in much the same way as its predecessors, the program provides loans from AU$750 to AU$20,000. Buyers are required to put down a 10 per cent deposit in store, but can take the artwork home that day and pay the remaining balance to Art Money over nine months, interest free.

“I saw Paul Becker tweet about it… I’m not bragging, but I do think that I was the first to tweet back that I thought it was a good idea,” quips Oliver; his Chalk Horse gallery is one of more than 50 across Australia to have jumped at Art Money, which launched earlier this year.

“It’s great for us because it will bring buyers that wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford art, or wouldn’t think that they would be able to afford it,” Oliver says, and notes, from his ‘dealer perspective’ – “the gallery doesn’t have to manage the layby. So we don’t have to chase [payments]. It’s a nice immediate result when the person buys.

“There was a stimulus,” attests Oliver of the program’s impact on sales, even in its infancy. “There are more people buying. And I think that some people that were going to buy bought slightly bigger work.”

Which is particularly good news for young and emerging artists, says Juliet Rosser, who started gallery and retail space Platform 72 in an effort to support budding Australian talent.

“I’m all about accessibility,” she stresses about Art Money. “The price point that it starts at is AU$750, which is quite an affordable price point for art. It’s really great for emerging artists because that’s where they’ve got to start at before they can start charging more.” And from the buyer’s end, she rightly points out – “it’s far more attractive to be paying off AU$75 a month than AU$750 straight up. “It’s such a different concept, but in every other industry you can buy stuff with interest-free loans, like furniture, TVs, cars – and thankfully there’s now one for art.

“Once people buy something that they really love, they get the art bug and they’re suddenly open to it. So it’s that breaking down of that first-time buyer – which is what I’ve always tried to be about.” From the artists’ end, more established creatives, like Archibald Prize finalist Julian Meagher, can also reap the benefits. “The thing I’ve noticed is, as your work gets more expensive, payments take longer to come in,” he says, as the paint dries on his entries for this year’s Archibald (which we later learn, has been selected as a finalist) and Wynne prizes.

“When you’re an emerging artist and your work sells for AU$600 or AU$1000, some people can just credit card that or transfer the full amount and you normally get paid out pretty quickly. As your work goes up in value, it takes a little more time for it all to leak in… I have to pay the money for the materials and all that kind of stuff upfront, and even when [a painting] gets sold, I’m still waiting six months down the track to see any money come back.

“Art Money pays the full amount to the gallery, which then allows the gallery to pay the artist straight away,” he says. “From an artist’s point of view, that’s why this thing’s so great.”

Art teacher Kirsten Duncombe recently purchased a limited edition Sarah Mosca print from Galerie pompom.

“I like the story behind it, the artist’s concept, which involves her walking through the mountainous Abruzzo region of Italy, with single sheets of large-format colour negatives attached inside her clothing, across her chest.

“These days we spend money on all sorts of things – nice shoes, trips away – which is great. But once you realise that you can buy art and just pay a bit off every month, and you can have this thing forever, basically, on your walls – I think that’s the best thing.” Perhaps one of the initiative’s greatest perks is that buyers can apply for Art Money but are not compelled to spend it immediately. Nor does it have to be spent solely on a painting or print.

“I think video art is very good,” says Oliver, about to purchase a moving image himself. “Art can be a lot of things – from sculpture to computer games, actually, so there’s going to be something for everyone.”

This article originally ran in Issue 24 of The Collective. Written by Melanie Dimmitt.