The art market needs educated buyers. An interview with Justė Jonutytė

November 29, 2021
Author Triinu Soikmets

It is one thing to make art and another thing to see art in it, as is evident from a widespread apothegm. This apothegm is usually used if one is skeptical about the intelligibility of contemporary art. But in addition to making and seeing, there is a third link in the chain – collecting. Both classical and contemporary art is collected, both intelligible and incomprehensible, for both aesthetic and economic motives, based on pure emotions or precise calculations.

What is the phenomenon of collecting and how to get into collecting, i.e assembling a personal collection, instead of just seeing art in museums and galleries, was discussed at this year’s ArtVilnius. The largest fair of its kind in the Eastern European region is, of course, focused on the purchase and sale of art, a process that is part of collecting, but it is also focused on opening up the process and educating those involved. The topics of the panel discussions and roundtables this time ranged from post-pandemic challenges in visual communication and the future models in the exhibition landscape to the psychological roots of collecting art and technological influences of the art market. Introductions of professional magazines and stories of an artist’s career from nobody to globalist were also included.

While the art exhibition in its usual form – from that definition, I deliberately exclude ultra-conceptual solutions that require the visitor to work through kilometers of treatises – primarily offers stimulation for the visual sense, and any professional conference inherently stimulates listening and speaking, the chat room program of the fair hits two flies with one blow, both theory and practice can be experienced directly on the spot. Although the main theme of the fair this year was paper-based art, and the most effective solution for exhibiting works is still vertical booth walls, there were a lot of performances as well as the increasingly relevant NFT art next to and in the middle of these walls. From the perspective of collecting art, however, it was interesting to observe what and how was served within the walls of the so-called Young Collector’s booth.

Triinu Soikmets: You were involved in two of the panel discussions this year at ArtVilnius – how did your participation happen, which is your relation to the fair and its organizers?

Justė Jonutytė: Doing a talk or taking part in a panel discussion at ArtVilnius has become a yearly tradition for me. As an art advisor and a contemporary art market expert, an art fair is a perfect setting for me to share my experience and knowledge, as well as a great way to catch up with collectors, artists and gallerists. This is also the first year that I was invited to join a brand new Board of Council of ArtVilnius, so I’m very excited to get more involved and share my experience and insights with the team of the fair. One of the panel discussions was on the NFTs, as a part of the show organized by Lewben Art Foundation – a topic everyone is especially curious about at this time. I also did a talk together with Thomas Stauffer, a Swiss art advisor on why people collect art.

TS: One of the discussions was about collecting art in general and another about collecting NFTs. Which are the similarities and differences between them if you would make a summary for someone who does not know anything about it?

JJ: I think there are certainly many differences to begin with. As we discussed with Estonian gallerist Olga Temnikova and NFT collector Edgar Aronov, the collector base is different to begin with – at the moment, relatively few collectors of ‘traditional’ art are buying NFTs, which are mainly collected by crypto-enthusiasts who weren’t necessarily interested in art collecting before. Secondly, you need to have cryptocurrency in order to acquire NFTs. Also, the fact that most ‘traditional’ artworks are predominantly physical and require a physical space to show or store them, whereas the NFTs are stored in digital wallets. There are of course also some similarities, such as the aspects of demand and supply: the in-demand ‘traditional’ artworks and NFTs will be sought-after and with higher resale value. Also, in both sectors, there are parts of collectors that collect out of passion and because they MUST have the work they love, and there are those who are collecting work purely as a part of their investment strategy.

TS: There was a Young Collector’s booth at the fair for helping novice collectors to orient themselves in the local art field and to make their first purchase for a reasonable price. Did you manage to visit it and which were your thoughts about it? What would you personally recommend for someone who is about to start collecting art?

JJ: I must have missed this section this year, as I was predominantly occupied with talks. However, a young collector’s section is a great way to tackle the myth that only the most affluent can collect. I, too, started collecting my first works of art as a student with limited income, and there certainly are works in the market for almost everyone’s budget, starting with editions and emerging art sections. My main recommendation to those wanting to start collecting art: regularly attend museum shows, read about art and speak to other collectors, artists, curators and gallerists to deepen your knowledge and hear various opinions.  Consult with an art advisor if you are looking for professional guidance. Also, don’t postpone your first purchase for too long as in the field of collecting, you learn more from practice than from theory, so buying your first artwork will teach you more about collecting than any book.

TS: As I understand, just after the fair you also organized a masterclass about the art market’s situation today and tomorrow that is to be part of a new series of events. Who is the target group of these master classes and which are your impressions after the first event?

JJ: The idea for the masterclasses came from organizing previous courses. For four years now, I’ve been teaching an introduction to the contemporary art market to all those wanting to learn more about the field – whether they want to start collecting, open their art gallery or just learn more about contemporary art. The audience has been really diverse, ranging from professionals from the fields of medicine, law, fashion, journalism and other fields to those who had started their own galleries or worked for art foundations.  Naturally over the years out of these alumni, a group grew who wanted to pursue further studies in the art market. Therefore, I’m now inviting various art market and contemporary art professionals: international art advisors, gallerists, writers to share their insights on certain topics which can deepen knowledge in the field. It was great to have a full house at this first event so this series will definitely be continued.

TS: You are the founder and lecturer at TEMA Projects – „a space for conversations around contemporary art in Vilnius“. Tell us a little more about it and your role there!

JJ: I founded this space because I saw there was a lot of willingness to learn more about contemporary art and few places to do that if you’re not already in the “art bubble”. Contemporary art and collecting can seem like intimidating subjects before you approach them, however, when you start to understand how things work, it’s a lot easier to navigate it independently or with a community who share the same passion for art. Our main program is courses in art market and art history. In addition to that, we also offer art advisory services to individuals wanting to buy an artwork or businesses who want to have their art collection. We also organize art trips to international art fairs and major art events. It’s been really rewarding to see how my program has sparked even more interest in contemporary art, and people have acquired their first and subsequent works through knowledge gathered in the courses and lectures.

Justė Jonutytė is a curator, art historian and contemporary art market expert. She is the founder of TEMA Projects, director of Rupert (2013-2019), and Board member at Rupert, ArtVilnius and the Lithuanian Cultural Institute. 

This text was published in Estonian magazine

Installation at ArtVilnius by Vytautas Viržbickas. Photo: ArtVilnius

Galerie Nivet-Carzon, Paris, ArtVilnius. Photo: ArtVilnius

ArtVilnius 2021. Photo: ArtVilnius