The role of a buyer: ‘Temporary Custodians’ by Maurice Carlin

If you have been anywhere near a news website recently, you may have noticed a lot of noise transpiring from the arts and entertainment world, regarding Ivanka Trump; in particular her art collection.

Ivanka is a prolific contemporary art collector, posing in front of her purchases on social media posts, including while promoting her father’s presidential campaign and transition. Due to being concerned about her role in the transition team, and her father’s policies, artists are reaching out to ask her to remove their art off her walls, with Richard Price going so far as to declare his piece as fake.

So what does this news story have to do with Maurice Carlin’s temporary exhibition at HOME Manchester?

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It raises questions about the role of the art buyer. Should their behaviours align with the artist’s own values? I don’t think many artists would have intended for their work to be part of pro-Trump messaging. And what responsibilities do those who own art have? Should their purchase mean more than just decoration?

Carlin’s work, which is a series of a hundred unique relief prints of the floor of Manchester art and entertainment space Islington Mill, puts the role of the buyer in the spotlight, as anyone who purchases a print also becomes a ‘Temporary Custodian’. As much as I would have loved to have joined their ranks by purchasing one of these colourful prints, with added bursts of vibrancy in between floor tile reliefs, at £1000 each, a piece was well beyond my price range!

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As well as receiving a piece of the mill frozen in time, the Temporary Custodians become part of a community that will decide what happens to the complete artwork in the future, where it will go and who it will be shown to. Each choice will no doubt be laden with implications for the work’s meaning, explicitly giving the buyers the responsibility for a work that artists responding to Ivanka Trump through their action suggest she has.

Whether an artist, a buyer or a viewer has responsibility for forming a work’s meaning is a debate that has raged for centuries across disciplines of visual art, literature, theatre and many other forms of expression. However, I find Carlin’s overt addressing of the issue by deliberately giving meaning-forging powers to his buyers to be refreshing. It probes assumptions about what makes an art piece interactive, and although the exhibition of these pieces was temporary, it has the lasting effect of making me consider the meanings that I may be adding to the (much cheaper) art in my own home.

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