Monthly Archives: May 2016

The Artist as Philanthropist

This feature originally appeared in the April issue of Metropolis M magazine in Dutch translation:

On the face of it, the artist as philanthropist is an unlikely proposition. While some artists may be born into wealth, their chosen profession offers few prospects of financial stability and independence, let alone affluence on the scale that the term philanthropy (from the Greek, ‘love of humanity’) ordinarily implies. Though they can occasionally overlap, what distinguishes philanthropy from plain charity is vision, a clear purpose, financial clout, and an institutional framework that makes it possible to take a long-term view and address problems at their source. An artist is far more likely to be on the receiving end of philanthropic initiatives set up by wealthy patrons – the beneficiary rather than the benefactor.

Yet one could argue that artists, even of modest means, are at an advantage where charitable giving is concerned. In addition to their time, money and reputation, they can put their art in the service of a given cause. Artworks are their chief assets in this regard. Sold off at a benefit auction, the work of a sought-after and commercially successful artist can fetch significant sums. Take, for instance, Turner Prize winner Anthony Gormley, who supports a variety of causes, from the UK-based health charity Paintings in Hospitals to Comic Relief, which fights poverty and social injustice in the UK and abroad. His 2011 sculpture SUBMIT IV commanded the highest price (£300,000) at Unicef UK’s SyriART auction that raised a total of £750,000 – matched pound for pound by the UK government – in aid of refugee children in December 2014. Or else market star Marlene Dumas, several of whose figurative paintings have sold for over a million dollars in the past decade, including My Mother Before She Became My Mother (2010), which went for $2 million (nearly three times its estimated value) at an Artists for Haiti auction held in September 2011 at Christie’s in New York.

But artists need not be auction house record breakers for their gifts in kind to generate funds for philanthropic schemes, large and small. Educator and philosopher Bartosz Przybył-Ołowski, who is married to artist Paulina Ołowska, was thus able to enlist the support of Polish and international artist friends who donated 78 works for an auction in support of his RazemPamoja Foundation, which fosters mutual help and dialogue (as opposed to one-sided giving) between schools and communities in Poland and in Nairobi, Kenya, taking the form of mural exchanges, exhibitions, documentary and book projects. This parity, reflected in the foundation’s name – razem and pamoja mean ‘together’ in Polish and Swahili – is visually expressed in the striking peanut-shaped logo devised by Ołowska. As well as funding workshops and stipends destined for high school students in Nairobi’s Mathare slums, the proceeds from the ‘Learning, Sharing, Acting’ auction, which took place in January 2015 at Warsaw’s Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, helped to offset the costs of the eponymous Le Monde diplomatique publication, Into Africa: Learning, Sharing, Acting (2014). The book comes in two sizes: a funky magazine-size format designed free of charge by Stuart Bailey complements the more conventional paperback edition.

In conversation with former Goldsmiths teacher and student Martin Craig-Martin at a session titled ‘Goldsmiths Gallery: Artists as Philanthropists’ of the Art360: The Gift and its Legacy conference hosted by Goldsmiths on 19 February, the college’s Head of the Department of Art Richard Noble praised the ‘unbelievably generous’ response of alumni whom he personally approached to ramp up support for a new public art gallery that will be housed in a listed Victorian bathhouse on the campus. The £1,8 million conversion had been entrusted to Assemble, last year’s Turner Prize winners. As befits an institution that counts no fewer than seven Turner Prize winners among its alumni, the artist names beneath each lot at the dedicated charity auction read like the Who’s Who of British contemporary art with works from, among other, Damian Hirst, Anthony Gormley, Bridget Riley, Mark Wallinger, Yinka Shonibare, Sarah Lucas, Gillian Wearing, Steve McQueen, Michael Landy, and Craig-Martin himself.


Far from being an isolated instance of generosity towards one’s alma mater, the artists Noble spoke to pointed out that they were asked to donate work to auction virtually every week. Craig-Martin concurred: ‘Once … you’ve made the mistake of giving something to a charitable auction, you then are deluged with requests. You cannot imagine the range of causes. … Auctioning art is seen by a lot of fundraisers as the easiest way in the world of raising money.’ While artists find it hard not to respond to similar requests, there are pitfalls to this kind of charitable giving. If a work is sold off significantly below its market price – as is often the case at benefit auctions where buyers seek bargains and charities ready cash – it can be extremely damaging to an artist’s career (though sometimes a gallerist will step in to buy the work at its ‘real’ value). ‘The more generous the gift, the greater the risk you’re taking,’ cautioned Craig-Martin.

These risks partly explain why such market-savvy artists as Marlene Dumas offer their work up for auctions only exceptionally. But there are other ways for artists to be philanthropists. They may choose to give work directly to a public museum, gallery or library that would not otherwise be able to buy it on the market. Cash-strapped institutions wishing to build up their contemporary art collections actively solicit such gifts. An artist may also put a cash prize that he or she had been awarded in the service of a cause they deem worthy. Dumas thus pledged €100,000 from the Johannes Vermeer Award she won in 2012 towards the Ateliers Support Fund to rescue an artist-run academy, where she herself has taught.

At a time of dwindling state and corporate support for the arts, philanthropy offers a third way – or so our governments encourage us to think. And who is better placed than the artists themselves to understand and seek to address fellow artists needs? Set up by artists Bridget Riley, Peter Sedgley and Peter Townsend in 1968, the SPACE project originally responded to a specific need: the dire shortage of affordable studio spaces in London. Empty warehouses, factories, schools, and other sites that could be converted into studio spaces and let out to artists presented a solution to the problem. The scheme took off and subsequently flourished in large part owing to the generosity of sculptor Henry Moore who chose the project as the recipient of the Erasmus Prize he won in 1968, the year when SPACE Studios (as it’s known today) was founded. ‘He was our first and best sponsor,’ one of the artists explains in The SPACE Story video made not long after the charity was established.[1]

Supporting charitable causes or artist-led initiatives is often a prelude to starting a foundation (a tax-exempt, not-for-profit organization benefiting the public), one that reflects the artist’s values, concerns and his or her actual practice. Moore and Riley are a case in point. In 1977, ten years prior to his death, Moore who was known for his socialist views set up the Henry Moore Foundation, the largest artist-endowed foundation in Europe, and the first of its kind in England. One of the most lavish arts charities around, the HMF gives out £1 million in grants every year – roughly what the prolific and by the end of his career enormously wealthy artist was paying in income tax when he decided to set up his charity, at least in part to off-set this tax burden – to individuals and arts organizations. In keeping with the founder’s wishes, the bulk of the support is focused on sculpture (albeit in the expanded sense). The same applies to the Leeds-based Henry Moore Institute, which grew out of a centre for the study of sculpture; it now doubles as an exhibition and research venue with an outstanding specialized library and sculpture archive.

Registered as a charity in June 2011, the Bridget Riley Art Foundation is still relatively new and among the few artist-endowed foundations to become active during the artist’s lifetime (most tend to be founded posthumously by surviving spouses or relatives). With more limited means at her disposal than Moore, who poured all of his vast resources into endowing the HMF towards the end of his life, Riley is very precise in what she set out to do with the foundation that bears her name. So far the BRAF has funded a three-year project designed to expose students in and outside London to the Old Master and Modern drawings at the British Museum that she discovered as a student at Goldsmiths. This initiative, which led to the creation of two new curatorial posts at the British Museum, is part of the BRAF’s wider aims to investigate and nurture drawing practice among university art students.

Not all artist foundations are this specific in setting out their goals and the ways of achieving them. The trustees acting on the artist’s behalf often have ample room for manoeuvre. When the Alberses set up their foundation in 1971, ‘the guidelines were both beautiful and wonderfully vague’, says the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation’s project manager Nicholas Murphy, who directs the Thread residency program in the village of Sinthian, Senegal. Inaugurated in March 2015, Thread is meant to enable artists and writers working in any medium to expose themselves to ‘new frontiers’ in the pioneering spirit that characterized the artist couple’s life and work. For Murphy, the Thread building itself – which acts a cultural centre with residency facilities as well as an agricultural hub – illustrates the not-for-profit organization’s core belief that ‘art, culture and architecture should be supported alongside health, agriculture and education’. ‘Art isn’t the end of development,’ Murphy insists, invoking the locally-based project initiator Dr Magueye Ba, ‘art is development.’[2]

Cultural philanthropy may well be on the rise yet it is but a fraction of philanthropic activity overall. Artist foundations themselves have been expertly mapped out thanks to the Aspen Institute Artist-Endowed Foundations Initiative (AEFI), which issued an exhaustive report in 2010 (updated in 2013) sub-titled ‘The Artist as Philanthropist’[3] – the phrase appears to have caught on. One important limitation of the study, from a European perspective, is that it only surveys the American field. International artist-endowed foundations are relegated to a chapter (at the end of the two-volume report) written by the AEFI Project Director Christine Vincent in an attempt to remedy this. Yet at a time when American-style philanthropy is held up as an example for us all, artists outside the US considering to go down that route would do well to take stock of its findings. Speaking at the ‘Artists as Philanthropists’ session of the Goldsmiths conference, Craig-Martin who grew up in the US was keen to impress on the audience what the American dream implies: once you’ve made it, you’re fully expected to give it back.


[2] In a Skype interview with the author on 9 February 2015.

[3] The full report is available for online consultation at




Jackie Waldren: Expat Lives

This article appeared in the FT Weekend’s Expat Lives column:

The poet Robert Graves lived and died in Deià, a village on the north-west coast of Mallorca. To him the village was a sacred place; in a 1970 interview with Playboy he described it as being at the centre of a “magnetic field” created by the iron ore in the mountains. Graves was one of the first expatriate artists to settle in Deià, but he was not the last. Since the first world war its dramatic cliffs and rocky coves have inspired waves of painters, writers and musicians.

It is the influx of expats and their impact on Deià that has long fascinated anthropologist Jackie Waldren, 79. In 1959, she discovered the village that would become the locus of her research, and her home. She remembers how soon after arriving she set out for Deià’s pebbly beach on foot. “I walked and walked and walked, and I slid down one of the [olive grove] terraces and sat there and looked around me. And I was just overwhelmed by the beauty of nature. It was vibrating,” she says.

Waldren spent decades living between Deià and Oxford, where she was a lecturer and research associate at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology and a member of Linacre College, specialising in the social anthropology of expat communities. Her book, Insiders and Outsiders: Paradise and Reality in Mallorca (1996), examines how expats have changed the village.

One of her interests is identity, how it is “negotiated” and the related issue of belonging. Deià and its expat community was a natural choice of subject. “I always wanted to get behind the myth of Deià — its magic, goddesses, energies,” she says. “Foreigners perceive the space very differently to the way locals do.”

In 1962, she co-founded the Deià Archaeological Museum and Research Centre with her late husband, Bill, in an abandoned 17th-century grain mill. The name of the museum — which holds exhibitions by expat artists, along with poetry readings and concerts — reflects Bill’s academic interest. As Waldren puts it: “Bill dug up the dead and I studied the living.”

Waldren was born in Los Angeles and she arrived in Deià aged 21 having just graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles. “I thought I knew everything,” she says. “[The landscape] really humbled me.” On her first evening at her lodgings she met Bill, an American artist and archaeologist based in Paris, who had spent the previous five summers in Deià, painting and giving art lessons. They got married and settled in Deià, renting a home until Bill designed and built a three-storey terraced “cave house” dug into the cliff.

“Back in those days, you could live in Deià for about $25 a month, including your rent,” says Waldren. Little has changed superficially about the place for centuries — there is still just one main road through the village of limestone buildings with terracotta roofs. In the 1970s Deià had a freewheeling vibe; Graves hosted friends such as Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov and Gabriel Garciá Márquez. Waldren recalls being chastised by the actress Maggie Smith, also a guest of Graves, for always dressing in black “like a Spanish woman”.

From 1975 the Waldrens — Jackie, Bill and their four children — spent term time in Oxford and summers in Deià. After the slow pace of life in the village, Oxford felt like an adventure. “Concepts of time — the seasons, past and present, minutes or hours — had to be adjusted in each place,” she says. “After Deià, where everyone knows everyone else and everything about them, it was a joy to be anonymous and wander here and there on my own.” Though Waldren was reluctant to get too involved in the rituals of college life, she adjusted to “Oxford’s scheduling and super-organised life”.

Jackie Waldren in Deià
©Javier Carbajal Jackie Waldren in Deià

Meanwhile, the village’s fortunes were changing. In the 1980s a five-star hotel, La Residencia, was built. “Little by little the hotel has created a whole infrastructure,” Waldren says. “People get this sense of luxury [when] they stay in these beautiful suites and they think, ‘this is the dream of a lifetime’.”

Today, Deià’s population of about 700 triples in the summer, and foreigners own 40 per cent of the houses in the village. The “artist colony” has been transformed into a high-end holiday resort. Celebrities and a business elite — Richard Branson once owned La Residencia — are replacing the artists of old.

After Bill died in 2003, Waldren continued to live between Deià and Oxford, teaching in term time and running archaeological excavations in Mallorca during the holidays. In 2012 she moved to the island permanently. She found her time in Oxford had complicated her relationship with the villagers. “You had to regain their confidence every time you came back,” she says.

Waldren has no plans to retire. As well as pursuing her research into ageing expats in Mallorca and their access to healthcare, she has taken on several new roles: tour guide, speech giver, workshop leader and celebrant at weddings for English-speaking expats. “Deià is a place where I’ve reinvented myself many times,” she says.

Marina Abramovic: As One

This interview with Marina Abramovic, on the occasion of “As One”, her collaboration with NEON and Greek performance artists at the Benaki Museum in Athens, appeared online in The Calvert Journal:

Marina Abramović 4Eight Greek artists discuss their work with Marina Abramović, NEON+MAI, As One. Image: Natalia Tsoukala

Few artists have dedicated themselves so wholeheartedly to a single art form as Marina Abramović. If the Serbian artist did not invent performance art, she started experimenting with it in the late 1960s and has done more than anyone else to put performance on the map by tirelessly promoting it over the course of a four decade-long career. The “grandmother of performance art”, as she describes herself, was born in Belgrade in 1946 to parents who were war heroes and militant communists. Abramović’s early performances in Serbia and with her partner – in life and art – Ulay (Uwe Laysiepen), whom she met after moving to Amsterdam in 1976, are the stuff of legend. On her own or as one half of a hermaphroditic duo that came apart in 1988, the artist pushed her body to its physical limits, subjecting herself to pain and courting danger, even death, as a way of reaching heightened states of consciousness as well as testing the boundaries between the performer and her audience.

The Abramović Method distills the artist’s knowledge about performance. Abramović sees the very notion of “method” – particularly prevalent in theatre — as inherently Slavic; one need only think of theatre directors Stanislavski, Grotowski or Kantor. Her own method consists of a series of cleansing exercises, carried out in three basic bodily positions (standing, sitting and lying down), designed to slow visitors down and put them in the right frame of mind to experience long-durational performance. Along with re-performance, this is one of the key concepts the artist has introduced, and seeks to sustain via her performance art organisation, the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI). She sees duration in performance as the necessary condition for a transformation in the performer and the viewer to occur. Her own intensely focused practice perfectly illustrates this, in particular the more recent feats of endurance, above all The Artist Is Present. Staged as part of Abramović’s 2010 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and continually performed during the opening hours, the piece saw the artist exchange glances and energy with visitors – one on one – for a total of 736 hours.

The Calvert Journal caught up with Marina Abramović on the opening weekend of As One, a six-week programme of participatory performances drawing on the Abramović Method, at the Benaki Museum, Athens (10 March-24 April 2016). As One was a collaboration between NEON and the Marina Abramović Institute (MAI).

Marina Abramović 1Counting the Rice. Image: Felipe Neves/FLAGCX. Image courtesy of Marina Abramovic Institute and Kaldor Public Art Projects

TCJ: What are the virtues of long-durational performance?

MA: Long-durational performance is very hard on the performer but the transformation he or she undergoes changes the public and their view on life itself. For a performance you have to be in the present. But during the performance your mind can go to different spaces, times, think about something else. If you have to count every second, how much time have you got for your mind to go somewhere else between one second and another? It requires huge willpower to be in the present constantly. By doing that you change your brain pattern. By changing your brain pattern, you change your intake of oxygen and you can create a completely different state of mind, which can actually affect your life.

TCJ: Is the Abramović Method universal?

MA: The Method to me is the condition to understand long-durational, immaterial art. But it’s also a conditioning for any of your work. Everybody uses it for his own self. So I’m inventing a method for how to listen to Bach’s music, or how to look at a classical painting. It’s endless. We can find the key for how we can go back to simplicity. When I did a workshop with Lady Gaga, she immediately included the slow motion walk into her performances. People take elements from the Method that they need for their own profession. Whether it’s a farmer or a politician, they may realise things they didn’t realise because finally they have time with themselves. You don’t need to be especially interested in art to be doing the Method; everybody can do it.

Marina Abramović 2

Yota Argyropolou, One Person at a Time, As One, NEON + MAI. Image: Panos Kokkinias

TCJ: Do people respond to MAI differently in different places? What has the response been so far in Greece?

MA: I find the Greeks incredibly emotional. The culture is very close to me because it’s Orthodox, like in ex-Yugoslavia. My grandmother was Orthodox too, and even though my father and mother were communists, I was very connected to the spiritual elements of Orthodox faith. I became a Tibetan Buddhist myself.

TCJ: Do you view the Method’s exercises as spiritual?

MA: I never mention it, but they are in many ways because I arrived at them through my own experience. They all deal with our impatience to really quiet our mind and be in the present moment. They all have this same goal but different ways of achieving it. Even the lying in bed: it’s incredible how many people could not close their eyes and how tense they become. Because you’re quiet, you’ve got headphones on, and all that you’re left with is your crazy mind. That’s a huge enemy.

TCJ: Did you experience the Mutual Wave Machine, the work inspired by the “Mutual Gaze” exercise where you sit and gaze at a partner inside a capsule onto which your joint brainwave activity is projected?

MA: I know the machine. The artist and neurologist Suzanne Dikker developed it with a software designer, Matthias Oostrik: it’s an experiment but at the same time an art piece and a sculpture. They based it on our research. After I finished The Artist Is Present at MoMA, American and Russian scientists (from the Sackler Institute in New York and the main Russian brain research centre in Moscow) became very interested in my brain. They experimented with caps and measured my waves and the waves of a person I’d never met before; in non-verbal communication with a total stranger, when you just sit in front of him and you mutual gaze, 70 per cent of the brain works more and subconsciously emits an incredible amount of electromagnetic vibrations. It looks as though our brains are much more active when we don’t talk. You start knowing a person more, on a much deeper level, when you don’t talk to him.

Marina Abramović 3Mutual Wave Machine. Image: Sandra Kaas

TCJ: What’s the future of performance?

MA: I am no wizard to predict the future but performance is a never-dying art: it always comes and goes like a phoenix, rising from its own ashes at different moments of the history of humanity. Sometimes it’s not needed and it goes underground and then comes back again in a different guise. In the 1970s it was very visible and in the 80s it completely disappeared because art as commodity was on the rise; then came AIDS and performance became all video and club culture with Leigh Bowery, Iggy Pop and all these people going into really heavy stuff; then it went away and was channeled through theatre and dance, and went back again into performance and became interactive with Tino Sehgal. It’s so interesting how it comes and goes.

TCJ: In the speech you gave on the night of the opening you said that economic crises often coincide with a rise of interest in performance.

MA: Yes, because performance is so cheap.

TCJ: Is it? It seems complicated and costly to get that many artists together.

MA: It’s true. But immaterial art is not a commodity. That’s the thing that’s different. If performance gets such a response in moments of crisis it is because it’s creating a community.

TCJ: You seem to be suggesting that there are more and more interactive pieces calling on audience participation. How do you see your role as an artist given this development in performance art?

MA: I’m on the way out, my dear. I’m 70. In my case the transition was that the public becomes the work but I create the context for that. I will still do some works of my own; at the same time I’m interested in how the public can take on the role of the experimenter. For me it’s very important that MAI establishes some kind of platform so that new forms of art can be developed, even if I don’t know the name for them, but that’s included in my idea of the concept of the future. Anything that’s immaterial and also the virtual world. There are lots of possibilities to develop around that. Take Magic Leap glasses – it’s virtual reality but it seems like the real world.

TCJ: MAI is a nomadic institution for the time being.

MA: Our logo is: You don’t go to us, we come to you.

TCJ: Where will you go next?

MA: Lots of curators are coming to see this show. Maybe Italy or Ukraine. I’m very interested in doing something in Paris, especially in the current social climate generated by the terrorist attacks. The only problem I have is lack of time.