It was a particularly bad sign when one committee member I talked to couldn't name a single Contemporary artist and then confessed to preferring Old Masters
We were playing a game on Twitter recently of unlikely marriages. Robbie and Shirley Williams. George W and Kate Bush. Katie and Sherlock Holmes. Not long before then I had found perhaps an equally unlikely pairing, only this was real: the Whitechapel Gallery and Mayfair. More particularly, the slick young denizens of Mayfair's financial houses and their flighty friends who attended the launch of First Futures at Brown's.
First Futures is a programme to engage (potential) young collectors with the work the Whitechapel Gallery and its artists do: exhibition tours, studio visits, museum shows, meetings with private collectors. It's priced punchily – £500 a year – but as co-chair Edouard Benveniste-Schuler, specialist in Post-War & Contemporary Art at Christie’s, told me, 'We're much cheaper than other programmes in London.' (Tate's Young Patron scheme is £1,000 a year.)
They sold twenty memberships, so the price clearly isn't a problem. The problem, I would argue, is that Whitechapel are targeting the wrong people, based on those I met.
Pictured above: Edward Tang and Eugenio Re Rebaudengo
One gentleman – sharp suit, dark pompadour hair, no clue – asked me: 'So, what is this Whitechapel thing?' This attitude – East London? Why on earth would I go there? – seemed to predominate, with few of the non-art-world people knowing much about the gallery or Contemporary art or East London. You could argue that's exactly why you need a programme to educate people, but it was stony ground. Haroon Mirza was there, and children of collectors, but no-one you could exactly qualify as the lifeblood of the art scene.
It was a particularly bad sign when one committee member I talked to couldn't name a single Contemporary artist and then confessed to preferring Old Masters.
Whitechapel is a terrifically significant, successful, acclaimed and indeed glamorous gallery – its annual ball is a major social occasion and raises piles of money, with lots donated by important artists to its charity auction – and it needs to secure young collectors. First step: dispel their oblivion.
Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick on the need for philanthropy