Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Collection obsession

Kitikong in his Chiang Mai gallery

The other day, Seth Godin was talking about how artists can make a living, and some of the inherent difficulties. As he sees it, artists have a limited market for their work with any individual collector: "So, what's the problem? Share of wall. Unlike records or shoes, it's hard to buy a lot of art. Pretty soon, you've got no place left to put it, do you?"

But while Seth knows lots about business and viral marketing, he doesn't know much about the business of art, which works quite differently from your typical model. Collectors are an eclectic bunch. Some focus on the work of a particular artist; others pick and choose from an era or style. They buy for many reasons: some find just the right piece for their mantel; others swoon at a piece and have to have it at any price; some are seduced by a low price tag and a promising CV; and others simply buy for the bottom line investment (though these speculators have temporarily paused, leaving mainly what gallerists like to call "Serious Collectors", flattering their sophistication). More often than not, collectors want a piece of the artist's life, manifested in his/her work. And some can never have enough.

Kitikong, pictured above, is a smart, soft-spoken artist based in Chiang Mai. He prints his own work, and helps other artists print theirs. But he doesn't print the work of just any artist (ordinary artists are welcome to play around in his studio for 500-1000 baht/day if you know what you're doing), no, he's looking to work with high-profile or bankable artists who will add to the stacks of incredible work already jamming his flat-files.

You see, this printer is also a true collector. His name-dropping skills are on par with the hippest gallery-goers in London. He's plugged-in to the gallery scene throughout Asia, L.A., New York and Australia. He knows those whom he wants to work with, and has positioned himself to make this happen. (This artist recently made a series of prints at Kitikong's Chiang Mai-based studio/gallery, C.A.P.)

C.A.P. assistants - they live upstairs, life and work inseparable

Through an ingenious funding scheme, he has created a win-win situation for fellow collectors and artists, and also for himself and his assistants. Kitikong is a great example of how an obsession - because for the best, collecting art is a true obsession - can be turned into more than just decorating our living-room walls.