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Catching Up with Art Collector Jason Swartz on the Current State of Art, Social Media and Technology

Jason Swartz, is an art collector based between Los Angeles and Berlin. He is a board member on the Acquisition Committee at MOCA Los Angeles where he recently donated work by Tschabalala Self, as well as a donor at the Hammer Museum at UCLA.

Swartz came of age working in the global music festival business, producing festivals and representing musicians for live touring, and has always had a deep passion for music, art and architecture. He has always felt a deep connection to artists, not only as a supportive accelerator to their careers, but as a protective big brother that has made it a point to help  see their careers grow.

“As I’ve become close with a lot of emerging artists I like being able to open conversations with  my network of curators as well as utilize my current business of tech and social media to help artists sustain the momentum they have in the early phases of their career,” says Swartz. Most recently, Swartz placed a work by rising star Tschabalala Self with MOCA Los Angeles. “She’s an amazing artist whose work is inspired by the legendary African American artist Romare Bearden associated with the Harlem Renaissance and is truly trailblazer in her own moment,” says Swartz. Her works of collage-like canvases and tapestries often address how the black female body is depicted in the media, potentially freeing them from stereotypes to celebrate portrayals that are all too often narrowly defined.

Swartz has several notable artists in his collection including emerging artists such as Alex Gardner and Anna Park, to blue chip artists like Cecily Brown and Christopher Wool. We talked to Swartz about what he has been up to and the direction he sees the future of the art world moving toward.

In the modern moment, how is the art world catching up with the ever-changing times? What are some of the trends you see affecting artists and collectors?

JS: Ever since the pandemic took shape, everything had to move online quickly. A lot of galleries have a social media presence, but the reality is that not everyone in the art world, from curators to collectors, is always on social media. Oftentimes galleries send out PDF previews of work for upcoming fairs and shows as a teaser, but for last year the teaser has been the whole show. Things are coming back to normal slowly in the U.S., but the art world definitely took the moment to raise their digital communication. There are a lot of interesting algorithm opportunities that galleries, museums and artists can take advantage of to garner more attention for their art in the social media realm. That is one thing that I’ve really enjoyed helping out with — being able to bring my social media knowledge to my network of artists, galleries and museums.

For you, what is the importance of supporting artists and donating to museums during hard times?

JS: When I recently gifted the work of Tschabalala Self to MOCA Los Angeles I felt great knowing the work would influence many young artists and creative voices to come. The work itself is one of her masterpieces, and she’s an artist that is really pushing the boundaries both for women artists, and how African American women are portrayed. Even during these crazy times, donating art and supporting museums that help influence and archive culture is essential. Be it to inspire youth that are still looking for a way to express their voice, and adults who may have forgotten the power that art had on them at one point, supporting museums ensures there are  institutions that can continue to stay creative, and find a power in their artistic voice.

What is the importance of supporting artists’ careers?

JS: When it comes to younger emerging artists, there are some great ones I’m very excited about: Anna Park, Alex Gardner, Derek Fordjour and Patrick Alston to name a few.  I have always enjoyed being around creative talent in music, fashion and now art. Once I become friends with them, better understand their practice and get emotionally connected to them and their art it feels natural to get behind their career.  It starts in the form of collecting their art, and then doing what I can to help make sure the powers that be at  museums, other respected collectors and the even social media art influencers take the time to pay attention to their work. The art world, like any creative ecosystem, can fall into trends, and artists who are in fashion at one time may quickly fall out of favor with three to five years. Having a bigger foundation under them helps to ensure that doesn’t happen so long as the artists can continue to put out great work.

How could NFTs be just what traditional artists need right now to shake up the art world’s ecosystem?

JS: Like them or not, it seems that NFTs (non-fungible tokens or digital art) are here to stay.  Digital art and art in the form of video has been around for some time, dating back to the early 1970s with pioneers like Korean artist Nam June Paik, to more recent artists like Matthew Barney, Pipilotti Rist, Arthur Jafa and even Aaron Garber Maikovska. One of the exciting bits about NFTs is that for the first time, the artist actually has a royalty connected to the art they make. With NFTs, whenever an artwork is sold, 10-20% of the sale price goes back to the artists, which is a really beautiful caveat that allows the artist to benefit directly from the increased demand for their work and eventual resale. For decades, legal bodies and creatives have tried to push for legislation that would ensure the artist receives a percentage of the resale of their work, but it has never been fully solidified in a real world action. Now with NFTs, each transaction is a unique digital item that is tracked via blockchain, ensuring the artist directly gets paid off a transaction without the use of cumbersome legal action or in depth tracking of work, which is virtually impossible in the behind-closed-doors transactions of the art world.

Aside from the business of it, 2021 is a digital society. Just as students will soon learn more about the modern history of social media, it only seems fitting that art created digitally that lives within the frames of our daily screens be attributed a proper value. It will get interesting as life comes back to normal, and these newfound collections become more prevalently displayed in  immersive galleries, on public walls by way of projections, and perhaps hopefully in traditional museum spaces. It is all so new that it’s hard to see it from a historical perspective, but in the years ahead  it will be exciting to see which artists from the NFT space stand the test of time and which are looked back as a bubble.  Whether it is headline grabbing artists like Beeple who sold at Christies for a whooping 69 million dollars, to sci-fi-themed, in-demand art like Madd Dog Jones and 8-bit-CryptoPunk NFTs, they are all laying the archival nature of the NFT art movement to come. It seems clear a lot of passionate artists are finally getting their due shine, with many more to come, and a number of everyday collectors to wealthy whales  are willing to support the movement.

Follow Swartz on Instagram for more on art and technology.