Feature David Bowie’s Former Curator, Beth Greenacre
After graduating from The Courtauld, she met David Bowie in 1999 and became the curator of his art collection the following year. For more than sixteen years until the artist’s death, they worked together on numerous projects, including the launch of Bowieart, David’s online platform to support young artists, becoming close friends along the way.
In 2016, on behalf of the estate, she directed the sale of work from the collection at Sotheby’s. The auction, which took place in three parts, amassed an overall sale total of £32.9 million, three times the low estimate, with 59 artist records set over the course of two days.
Among many other things she is now curator at AllBright, an all-female network that combines members’ clubs in the UK and the US. It opened its first on International Women’s Day in 2018 in London and celebrates and champions women to help them thrive. She sits on the Courtauld Association Committee and is director of The Stand, a new digital art platform that raises money for charitable causes through online auctions, featuring works by emerging to mid-career artists. These are just a few of the reasons why she is this week’s Monday Muse.
THE WICK: Talk us through your typical Monday.
My Monday typically starts on Sunday night. That may sound unhealthy, but I make sure that I know exactly what my week – both work and otherwise – looks like. I have a busy calendar so it’s good to start a step ahead.
I wake early and try to exercise and meditate before anything else. Breakfast is a must, eggs or yogurt, and then on to work. I try to work from home on Mondays, which was a pre-pandemic pattern, and I also try not to have too many meetings or calls. It gives me headspace and lays foundations for the week ahead.
TW: You started your career as curator of the David Bowie Collection. What are your memories of working with David and how did this role shape your career?
The better part of my career was working with David, from graduating to his death in 2016, and then beyond when I directed the sale of part of his collection at Sotheby’s. He taught me so much, even today when I ask myself questions about work or I have big decisions to make I find myself saying, ‘What would David do?’.
When looking at art – and thinking about life – David taught me to disregard hierarchies, support creativity in all its forms, seek out the outlier and approach things with an open heart.
He didn’t just shape my career.
TW: As a champion of emerging artists and curator at AllBright, your career is devoted to equality within the arts. How do you think things are changing?
BG: Not quick enough across all sectors sadly – there is a lot to be done for all marginalised people and their allies. However, there is great progress in many areas. There is improvement in our institutions, for example, 66% of Turner Prize winners have been female-identifying for a decade and Tate collections are nearing gender parity, thanks to directors Maria Balshaw and Frances Morris. Shockingly, this is not the same for auction houses and most commercial galleries in London. For the decade leading to 2019, Artnet News found that women made up just 2% of the worldwide auction market, while the spring 2021 Artnet Intelligence Report reveals that, in 2020, there were only eight women among the 100 top-selling artists at auction.
TW: You are currently the director of digital art platform The Stand, which launched earlier this year. How has it been received?
The Stand is a new auction model where selling art, supporting artists and benefitting social causes form a virtuous circle. I spent much of the final stages of lockdown building the business and model with Robin Woodhead, ex-CEO of Sotheby’s. The pilot sale in May this year firmly established that the concept of The Stand translates well into the real world of artists, buyers, the press and causes. The uniformly positive response from these essential stakeholders has been consistent, strong and widespread. Indeed, since the launch, we have been approached by a number of potential partners, including charities for unique sales, as well as the auction houses who would like to be involved with us.
We now have an amazing line-up of forthcoming sales including a sale curated by Francesca Gavin, a single charity sale with The Courtauld Institute curated by Atticus Ross, best known for his work alongside Trent Reznor, both in the genre-defying band Nine Inch Nails and as a film scoring duo. A sale that raises awareness of art’s relationship to health and wellbeing curated by Jenn Ellis in partnership with the virtual space, AORA. And I am programming into next year, including a sale with Faye Toogood.
“David taught me to disregard hierarchies, support creativity in all its forms, seek out the outlier and approach things with an open heart.”
TW: The pandemic has revolutionised our ways of engaging with and buying art. Which changes do you think will be permanent?
I hope that we will continue to buy with the artists and social impact in mind; I for one focused all my art buying on supporting artists during the moment that most felt very vulnerable.
Inevitably, the art world and the art market jumped online during the pandemic. We saw a sharp rise in online engagement and collectors buying online, many for the first time. I have never advocated for the online experience to be an alternative to viewing art in person, but I have always been a champion of the power of the internet to share great art without boundaries and to support artists.
Back in 2000, David and I launched one of the first online platforms – Bowieart – to support emerging artists and people thought we were mad. It was a huge success and I feel like I am coming full circle with The Stand.
TW: How do you think the rise of millennial and Gen Z collectors is shaping the market?
There is much to be said for the impact of Gen Z and millennials on the online marketplace, but we should not think they are the only generation at it. For me, one of the most interesting and vital differences with these groups is their commitment to social responsibility and impact investing.
As a form of social impact investing, The Stand offers the dual purpose of supporting artists and the causes they care about; this should resonate with all generations and is a model that responds to a welcome reconsideration of how we spend our money.
TW: Desert island quarantine. Which book, album and artwork do you take with you?
During the first lockdown I had this urge to reread Simon Van Booy’s The Secret Lives of People in Love; a series of short stories that tell of love, loss, frailty, human contact and isolation. For me, Van Booy prose is intense and gentle, and he reminds us about the difficult choices we make to retain our humanity and about the redemptive power of love and friendship in a not so loving world.
It’s a little cheat I know, but as a trilogy can I take both Low and Heroes by David please?
And as I could never choose a painting from art history, which is too vast with too many brilliant, poignant moments, I’d take a picture by my son, which he did in 2017 in front of an Alice Neel painting. He looked so intently and carefully and joyfully at the characters in front of him; it was one of many moments when I have recognised the power of art on all. He was only three at the time and I have it framed at home.
TW: Your involvement and impact on the art world is ubiquitous. What’s next?
CR: The Stand consumes a lot of my energy, but I continue to work with private clients; I love how the minds of collectors work. And I love connecting collectors with art that is meaningful for them.
TW: Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?
BG: Patti Smith – the bohemian punk, rock and roll messiah – ultimate female rebel Patti Smith and the mother of two, poet, performer, author, student of the spiritual, Patti Smith.