Like countless other nonprofits, The American Foundation for The Courtauld Institute of Art continues to re-imagine the way we stay connected to our special community, and to the wider art world. One constant, though, is our shared love of art and art history.
AFCIA is delighted to launch Postcards from The Courtauld: Voices on Life, Art & Change, a series of spirited and enlightening Q&As with a diverse group of alumni, friends, and special guests, who recount meaningful experiences and perceptions about The Courtauld, along with their current motivations and outlook.
As nature blooms into full-fledged spring, vaccinations are letting us steadily transition to a new “new normal.” We are reintroducing ourselves to a diversity of activities and the broader parameters of life. Some of us are feeling liberated from the often-monotonous constraints of the everyday routines of the past year. Now more than ever, creativity involves tapping into our individual subconscious to transcend, transport, and escape. Audacity, optimism, independence of mind, freedom (or at least the illusion of it), and subversive energy are all elements of the act of creating – giving birth to something that did not exist before.
Courtauld alumna Beth Greenacre (BA 1997), reveals how art led her to meeting David Bowie and eventually assisting him with his storied art collection. Bowie, who himself studied art, music, and design, had an indelible cultural and artistic impact, and Beth gives us a unique insight into how his influence, among others, brought her to her latest project, The Stand. It investigates the intersection between the commercial art world and philanthropy and leverages the opportunity for art to serve a charitable mission.
What is your most striking memory about The Courtauld?
I would walk to Somerset House every day, and as I approached, I would feel fortunate, and also a little bit out of place. When I had that feeling, I would sit in the galleries and look at A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and feel grateful again. It’s a complex painting that you can spend hours looking at. Its perspective is unsettling and the fragility of figurative paintings’ relationship to reality is exposed; within the painting the uneasy exchange between the “working woman” and the man to the right is vexing. She looks unanchored amidst the bustle of the bar, and she reminded me that the promise of excitement and the reality of living in a big city are not always aligned, and introspection is necessary.
Was there one experience or moment that led you to pursue your career?
Meeting David Bowie. I had already decided on a career in the art world, but the London art world was very different in the ‘90s and I was still exploring possibilities. David took me on a wonderful journey which informed many twists and turns of my art career. Besides looking after his collection, we worked on numerous other projects, like launching the first digital platform and website to support emerging artists at a time when they were mostly distributing their work via slides, accompanied by handwritten notes! One year I was writing my dissertation at The Courtauld on an electric typewriter, the next I was writing code. My time with David still informs career decisions I make today, such as the new platform I have just launched.
“Art was, seriously, the only thing I’d ever wanted to own. It has always been for me a stable nourishment. I use it. It can change the way that I feel in the mornings.”
David Bowie, The New York Times, June 14, 1998
You’re referring to The Stand. Can you tell us more about it?
It’s a new digital platform where selling art, supporting artists, and benefitting social causes form a virtuous circle. I’m proud that as we make our way out of the pandemic, we launched our first online auction this month. As a form of social impact, investing the model, is simple but radical. The Stand will produce themed, curated auctions of works by emerging and mid-career artists. Artists, along with their galleries or agents, receive 70% of the sale price, with 20% going to partner charities and 10% to The Stand (plus 15% buyers commission) to cover costs. By properly rewarding artists and enabling them to donate to social causes, their best work is submitted for auction; we offer the dual purpose of supporting artists and the causes they care about.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Don’t worry, be present, and enjoy the moment. The art world is a welcoming place, full of brilliant, engaged, and passionate people; there are many paths to take. Oh, and you’ve got this covered.
What is your idea of happiness?
When I picture happiness, I am sat under a very particular tree, on the edge of a cork forest just outside of Comporta in Portugal. The sun is warm, and I can hear my child and the children of my dearest friends playing happily together. I know that as the sun sets, we will convene around a table, open some Vino Verde. We’ll talk about life, work, love, art. Some nights, artists will join us, other nights there will be dancing. Each night’s sleep will be deep, and each new day feels as precious as the last.
Who is your favorite lesser-known artist?
I have so many, it is hard to name just one – there are so many living artists that should be championed. Someone I am excited about right now is Chelsea Culprit. I love artists who push the medium of paint, and Chelsea does so with a very sensitive and fluid approach. She works across many media within one work, from Lycra dresses in resin to Aqua de Jamaica, which she includes in a work I have included in The Female Gaze, The Stand’s inaugural auction. The flower makes a deep red/purple color and the drink soothes and refreshes – she was inspired to use this material not just for its color but because she associates it with care that is easily accessible. Moving freely between anything from the pictorial imagery of folk art to the materiality of the real world, Chelsea’s works are composed of feelings as much as descriptions.
What is the one word that best describes your current state of mind?
Beth Greenacre is a leading force in the British contemporary art world. Graduating with a BA from The Courtauld in 1997, she is a curator and art consultant specializing in Modern British and International Contemporary art. Early in her career she worked as David Bowie’s art consultant. Together with Bowie she curated several exhibitions and also launched and directed Bowie Art, a groundbreaking online platform for supporting young artists and promoting their careers. In 2005 Beth established an independent gallery, ROKEBY, with the same aims. She is currently curator for The AllBright, an association and female members club which creates opportunities for women to thrive in business. Earlier this month, Beth launched The Stand with a collective of leading art professionals.
Deborah Swallow — Märit Rausing Director of The Courtauld
Bill Griswold — Director of the Cleveland Museum of Art
Jason Farago — Art Critic, The New York Times
Joachim Pissarro — Art Historian, Theoretician, and Director of the Hunter College Galleries
Sara Turner — US Department of Justice
Mary Rozell — UBS Art Collection