What is The Contemporary Art Society and what do they do?
The Contemporary Art Society was founded in 1910 and serves to acquire contemporary art for museums and galleries throughout the UK. They act as “talent spotters” and often buy work from emerging artists, whilst they are still affordable. They also offer traineeships in areas such as curating or marketing.
How does it work?
An institution pays the society £1000 per year for four years. The society then spends one year researching the institution and getting to know them, before buying a piece for around £8000. The society likes to maintain good relations with artists and museums, building up a relationship with them that helps them acquire work at a good price. The society finds artists through attending exhibitions and degree shows, which can lead to studio visits as well. They do look overseas for artists but it is important for them to see works in the flesh rather than online, and once they are familiar with an artist, that person can become a member through the Artist Membership Scheme. They look for a wide range of work, but have to keep the issue of longevity in mind: for complicated works they supply a conservation report that informs the institution on the upkeep of the work.
The Contemporary Art Society is mostly privately funded, relying on donations from patrons. They receive some funding from the Arts Council, but have been affected by cuts in recent years. Each year they hold a gala for wealthy patrons who can buy works. Alternatively, some people leave art to the society in their will. Occasionally there have been problems when institutions want to sell works acquired by the society. If an institution is Museum Association Accredited then they are not allowed to sell work from their collection, this can cause problems when councils want to sell works from their galleries, which risks them losing their accreditation. The society also gives travel bursaries to curators and funds an international research trip each year. They often support older curators, educating them about buying contemporary work.
I thought this lecture was really interesting and I enjoyed hearing about how the society functions and how they acquire work. I had never heard of the organisation and it was good to identify possible avenues for getting our work out there in the future. The speaker was friendly and honest when answering questions, which was refreshing as people can be guarded sometimes when discussing matters such as funding.