by Vatsala SethiDec 26, 2022
TheArtists is a non-profit platform dedicated to supporting artists. The focus is on the artists themselves, giving them a voice and visibility, along with the opportunity to discover international contemporary practices and provide insight into their own artistic practices. The organisation is dedicated to support specifically those who are not part of formal gallery representation, for which the selections are made by renowned curators and experts. The mission statement states: “We want to inspire people to become art enthusiasts who are curious to discover new contemporary practices. Buying artworks is one of the most direct ways to support artists and our platform makes it simple!” Studio visits and exhibitions are the second pillar of the initiative. Experiencing artworks in exhibitions and learning about the artist’s practice by visiting their studios is critical for context and appreciating the practice.
At the ongoing documenta fifteen, TheArtists supported the lumbung Gallery workgroup in developing and managing their activity. Lumbung Gallery is planned to extend beyond the duration of documenta fifteen.
I speak to Beat Raeber and Martin Heller, two of the five founding members of TheArtists on their vision and presentation at documenta fifteen.
Rahul Kumar: It is intriguing to note the vision of TheArtists – that of sustaining collective practices rather than producing collectible art objects. In this context, what the 'new models of ownership and trade' that you work with?
Beat Raeber: I would like to highlight that we do not oppose art objects being created and produced, for collecting purposes – instead, we felt the need to add to this, as it is not only a singular moment, a communal element among many of the artists. Many practices are collective without being public. Numerous artists working in studios, with studios or fabricators work in a very collective process, without being known or displayed publicly. The models of trade and ownership of TheArtists are rather straightforward, though when it comes to non-physical works like performances etc., we are challenged to find alternative ways for collectors to enter into these transactions. We have been invited to build up and manage the lumbung Gallery at documenta fifteen by the curators and the lumbung Gallery working group, and its concept encourages the parties to enter transactions and to think about alternative ways of exchange: a work of art in exchange of spare parts for tractors, consultations regarding transfer of land ownership, handing over a building for artistic interventions, etc. Additionally, for interested parties, such as institutions, a shared ownership of several museums connected with a program for activation of the purchased work (accompanying program, workshops).
Rahul: What are the parameters of the existing art economy and to trans vest resources towards a more commons-based exchange? It is ironical that while the immediate objective of TheArtists to remain non collectable art, your projects like Wajukuu have worked for years to create employment through the production and sale of quality artworks.
Martin Heller: There is no objective of TheArtists regarding non-collectable art, which is reflected on our website. With regards to the lumbung Gallery and especially in the case of Wajukuu, the objective of the collective is primarily to find resources to channel them back into the community: to build a carpenter’s workshop and to buy a farm for the community and friends and their children. There is no rigid either-or thinking: we want to establish a more open and transparent economy for artists, ensuring the artists are in control -- this is especially true for the principles of the lumbung Gallery. Therefore, TheArtists and even more so the lumbung Gallery introduced a common pot, where all participating artists can decide upon what to do with the money collected there.
Rahul: Why did you choose to launch the initiative at documenta fifteen? How is the curatorial-collective, ruangarupa, involved in Lumbung?
Beat: The lumbung Gallery is a result of numerous discussions among the curators, the artistic team and the lumbung members, who then decided to form the lumbung Gallery working group and subsequently invited TheArtists to establish and manage the gallery – not only in close connection with the lumbung Gallery working group, but as members of the curators of documenta fifteen and the lumbung Gallery working group as board members of our not-for-profit organisation, which is the lumbung Gallery. Having the ‘lumbung’ as a guiding idea and practice of this documenta fifteen, the lumbung Gallery consequently reflects many of its core value and practices, though many are still in the experimenting phase.
Rahul: TheArtists support practitioners who are currently not formally part of the gallery ecosystem. Is the aim to include them into mainstream art commerce? Or are these practices meant to continue to focus on non-commercial space?
Martin: We do not aim to establish a second level of the art market, TheArtists is a generous offer to explore other ways of entering the art market, for buyers and for artists. Everyone is invited to discover artists and their works – the access is simple, by checking the website and our exhibitions, which focus on an open and inviting atmosphere, avoiding any elitist approach. The idea that only a gallery enables artists to exist or to show their work is anyway an idea of the past, this kind of powerplay also binds too much energy. Nevertheless, traditional galleries can offer excellent and sincere dedication to artists and support for their practices; others are just dealers, aiming to sell works that sell well. We offer an additional way to support and experience art, TheArtists would be very happy to facilitate and consult the artists if one decides to join a traditional gallery, regarding the framework of such collaboration. Galleries are also invited to explore whether the excellent choices of our curators and their selections display a position they are interested to investigate for a possible future long-term collaboration. It is important to remember that we usually only show and sell selected works of artists for a period of one year only, and never say “our artists”, because we don’t own them, but view them as our partners, as without them there would not be TheArtists.
Rahul: Please talk about some of the key works presented at lumbung Gallery during documenta fifteen.
Beat: Documenta fifteen is a community experience and all works are an important part of that, therefore it would not feel right to single out specific works. Of course, certain works appeal to me personally more than others, but as the range of practices, including the non-physical works, is so broad, I would not highlight one before another. Speaking for TheArtists, each collective or artist who wants to partner with us, is treated equally and hence it would not be in line with our core mission to single anyone out. As we are not paid by commission, we work according to a pre-calculated budget which was discussed and approved by the lumbung Gallery working group, the curators and the artistic team. There is no preference, but a constant attempt to be good partners to each collective or artist. This documenta shows excellent works, which are very much unique and stand alone, but the immersive impact comes from the experience of the whole event and the multiple voices and stories that are woven into this generous invitation by ruangrupa.