Under the direction of Walter Hopps and Irving Blum, the Ferus Gallery played a major role in developing the Los Angeles art scene beginning in the late 1950s, a decade described in the documentary The Cool School as a “wasteland.”
In order to help build the LA art scene from scratch and compete with New York and Paris in the international market, the founders knew they needed to build on five key elements: artists to make the work, galleries to support it, critics to celebrate it, museums to establish it, and collectors to buy it. The last element in the list was one of the areas where Hopps and Blum were most proactive.
The connection between producers and consumers may be easy enough to understand, but how are collectors developed? With very little momentum in LA, the founders of the Ferus Gallery took it upon themselves to get the ball rolling. In the documentary, Nancy Kienholz explains that Walter Hopps, in an effort to build an educated community of art collectors, would hold extension classes at UCLA for young people who wanted to listen to him discuss the art he knew and appreciated. In the days before easy access to online art forums and websites, this type of interaction was necessary for people to learn about the art and the artists that were producing important and relevant work. At exhibits, Hopps also talked at great length to the attendees about the artists and the work on display in the hopes that, with a deeper level of understanding, they would purchase the art.
Would a public education program cultivate more collectors in Atlanta? How do you ensure that artists are part of that conversation as well? How do you help artists, who may not have the funds to purchase the work of their peers, play a role in the art economy?
To answer these questions WonderRoot, the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia (MOCA GA), and the Zuckerman Museum (Kennesaw State University) have created The Imaginary Million, “an art exhibition and auction for artists,” commissioned by Elevate (Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs). The event holds significant promise for Atlanta’s art community, as the organizations involved have glowing track records in helping to promote the arts in the city. Three days of programs focusing on collecting will culminate in a gala-style event from 7PM to midnight tomorrow night, Wednesday, October 24, at 200 Peachtree Street, where the artists who contributed work will be armed with $10,000 in “currency” and will bid on the 130 works on display.
The series of events kicked off yesterday with a collecting seminar with Robert Brawner, Anne Tracht, and Paul Barrett who discussed the importance of collecting in an art economy, how to begin building an art collection, how artists can be collectors, and the value of collecting work from local artists. Participating artists also led a tour through the exhibition space. “In a deeply personal way,” Maggie Ginestra of WonderRoot explains, the artists were asked to speak about “what they value in the works and what they’re seeking to collect.”
These tours recall Walter Hopps’s education programs at the Ferus Gallery. “It will invite the public,” Ginestra continues, “to have their own narrative about what they’re seeking to collect and allow them to trust themselves to make those decisions.”
On Wednesday night the artists will use their $10,000 to bid on the work. DJ Santiago Paramo will play music, and drinks will be served to create a celebratory atmosphere. Community members are encouraged to attend and to view and discuss the work, but it is the artists who will be doing all of the scrambling and strategizing for the pieces they want to take home.
“The art-auction-for-artists aspect of the event is meant to give artists an opportunity to acquire work,” says WonderRoot’s founder and executive director, Chris Appleton.
Appleton says that a couple of years ago a friend sent him a link to a video for the Cheaper Show that sparked the initial inspiration for the Imaginary Million. At the Cheaper Show, now one of the biggest art events in Canada, 400 works from 200 artists are sold for $200 each. The amount of work on display and the low price allows for many artists to sell work and gain public exposure.
Through the Imaginary Million event, many artists will have access to works that would normally be out of their price range. As Maggie Ginestra puts it, “This is access to fine art, as a fine artist.”
Another model that helped inspire the early conversations for the Imaginary Million was Art for Artists, a small auction for artists only, started in Brooklyn by Amber Boardman, with whom Appleton had many conversations about the value that artists have as producers and consumers in an art economy.
“We didn’t invent the art auction for artists, but there’s nothing else like this going on that I know of,” Appleton says of the Imaginary Million. “We’re just putting this model out there, and we’ll see what happens.”
When the founders of the Ferus Gallery opened their doors, they were making way for a new cultural climate in Los Angeles. An event like the Imaginary Million could potentially do the same for Atlanta. The intersection of emerging and established artists, as well as emerging and established collectors, will do much to further the conversation surrounding the art economy and the various roles we all play.
Disclosure: Scott Daughtridge is one of the 100 individuals who have artwork on display in The Imaginary Million auction. In pursuit of featuring topics that significantly contribute to cultural discourse, as well as our commitment to transparency, our policy is to disclose instead of exclude.