If you yearn for art and have some €5000 to spend, then today’s a big day for you. Contemporary art platform Avant Arte has just launched its collaboration with renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, and the 50 limited prints collection, Yin-Yang Peonies, is expected to sell out faster than a Kylie lip kit. Acknowledged as a living icon in the art world, Guo-Qiang merges beauty with terror through experimenting with gunpowder as his medium of expression. His (literally) explosive paintings and pioneering firework events have played key role in contemporary art discourse, yet to the majority of twenty-somethings, the artist’s name and practice might not ring a bell.
Here’s where Avant Arte steps in. Showcasing Cai Guo-Qiang’s work to their almost 1.5 million followers, the digital platform acts as mediator between progressive art and buyers. Considering the majority of their audience is under 35, however, how come so many of them will queue to buy a print today? The image of the art collector most of us have in mind is undeniably that of the crazy rich, gated-community businessman. So, we can’t help but wonder: What’s the role of art collecting in today’s world?
To help us navigate these thoughts, we reached out to Christian Luiten—one half of the founder duo behind Avant Arte. Together with Curtis Penning, he has witnessed firsthand the expansion of the digital platform from a personal archive of images to the world’s leading online space for young art collectors. Below, he shares his thoughts on key shifts in collection practices, asserting technology as the transformative force behind art’s new manner of circulating through society.
What draws you to a particular artist? What are the things you always look for?
We have two different platforms. Our curation on Instagram is always a combination between very “art world” pieces and works that are simply aesthetically pleasing. Essentially, it’s about really liking an artwork and just wanting to share that feeling with the world. On our website—where we sell prints—we choose our favourite artists whom we want to work with for specific collaborations.
For your most recent collaboration, Yin-Yang Peonies, you’ve chosen artist Cai Guo-Qiang. What aspects from his practice motivated you to approach him?
Cai has always been one of our favourite artists, but what draws us to him particularly is his authenticity. He created his own medium in art through the use of gunpowder as paint and of the sky as a canvas. Cai really carved out his own path in art and is already part of art history.
Is authenticity the main concept you want to present to, and instill in, young art buyers?
Yes, our conversation with him started along the line of authenticity as well. He recently did a retrospective show at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, he also exhibited at Madrid’s Prado Museum and Moscow’s Pushkin Museum. He’s really well-known within these established, traditional institutions. But for the people we reach via Instagram, he wasn’t necessarily a known name. So, it’s our goal to introduce our audience to his extraordinary practice, because even those who don’t know a lot about art can still understand where he’s coming from due to the authenticity inherent to his practice.
I was introduced to him through Avant Arte as well. That was a digital encounter, yet Cai Guo-Qiang’s practice, and the Yin-Yang Peonies print itself, are undeniably implicated in a physical realm and demand a viewer experience beyond the screen or Instagram feed.
Art is, ultimately, about a real-life experience. Still, technology allows for people who don’t live in big cities, where art is most accessible, to get to know artists, learn their names, follow them online and keep track of upcoming shows and so on. In this way, by being informed through social media, people get closer to having a chance of experiencing the art in real life too.
Back to art collection—the prints you sell on Avant Arte’s website are extremely limited yet not unique. How do you navigate the opposition between exclusivity and mass availability in the art world?
Since more than a million of our followers online are under 35, it’s a different budget that they have for buying art, as opposed to an older generation. And so, on our website, we put limited editions instead of original works, making involvement of youth in art collection practices easier and more affordable.
Also, prints have always been present in the art world—Rembrandt made prints, Warhol famously made them as well. Selling limited works as opposed to original ones is not the new thing. What has shifted is the audience. Even twenty years ago, people who were actively collecting art were not as many and were definitely very rich. Today, technology—and especially Instagram—has introduced art to people with a different budget, who can’t afford an original, but who, nevertheless, want to be part of the art world. Furthermore, celebrated and in-demand artists are selling original works worth more than 40 million euro, while at the same time doing cheaper collaborations with mainstream fashion brands that in no way harm their status as creators.
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Can you elaborate on the ways social media—especially Instagram where people can save, repost and curate images in their own digital galleries and archives—has played a transformative role in art collection practices?
Yes! For instance, we did some prints in the price range of €1600 and they sold out within 30 seconds. Then, these same prints were seen being offered for a tripled price on eBay. A comparison can be drawn here with certain tendencies in fashion, with Supreme for example—garments are bought out extremely quickly and are then re-sold online at higher prices. Personally, we’ve seen lots of sneaker buyers turn to collecting art too. Young people getting into art today have a very different mindset—it’s a fashion mindset, to which hype and collecting objects is important. And back to Supreme, the tendency there has been for people to buy objects instead of clothes or shoes, and this is a collector’s mindset of an audience that is not necessarily into art yet. Here lies the opportunity to use this fashion mindset as a way to get people involved with art.
It’s also essential to remember that people have always wanted to showcase their taste, to express a part of themselves through style or a possession. With Instagram however, the showcase is large-scale and the desire behind it is blown-up. If in the past you might have put an art object in your house for guests to admire your taste, today you do that through your Instagram feed. Following certain people online also showcases your mindset, taste and interests. Therefore, the showcase of taste has become way more accessible and art collection has become a lifestyle statement.
Does art as a showcase of someone’s lifestyle pose a danger to art as a pure expression of artistic creativity? What’s at stake in this trend you say we’re currently living through?
Rich people wanting to show off have always defined the art world. What has changed is the medium of this expression. If in the past you bought a Picasso for your home, now you buy it for your digital feed. Nevertheless, this adds certain accessibility to the art world, since more people are exposed to art when it’s online and not just in a rich person’s home. You can show off more easily than you could ever before. Also, personally speaking, I got into art through music—Kanye rapping about Basquiat ,or putting George Condo on his album cover. His intention might have been a desire to show off, but the result is that more people are getting in touch with the art. Ultimately—the more people interested in art, the better for our society.