Founder of Pen etc, Kerr Mcilwraith Defines Privilege

Founder of Pen etc, Kerr Mcilwraith Defines Privilege

In light of The Privilege Issue, we are asking a bunch of creatives what privilege means to them. The first is artist and founder of independent gallery Pen etc: Kerr Mcilwraith.

Tahmina Begum: Define what privilege means to you?

Kerr Mcilwraith: For me, working in the art market, privilege is an odd topic. Working in such an elitist environment one can easily take things for granted. I’m lucky enough to have started my own art collection, which includes contemporary European art, and Meiji period Japanese prints, in certain circumstances and social groups I feel extremely privileged and lucky to have this collection, however in the presence of more matured, and established collectors my small collection of ‘emerging artists’ work seems feeble; privilege is relative to an environment.

TB: Working in the arts, has there ever been a situation where you have realised you either lack or have privilege?

KM: The most explicit example I have experienced in the art market is the advantages that age can bring; most notably in selling platforms, such as art fairs. More often than not a mature collector will have minimal interest in discussing an artwork with someone who is not of their peer group – which leaves graduates, and probably half the art-world at a stand still. More recently I was asked by a client if they could discuss a Japanese Edo period screen with ‘someone who knows about screens,’ unbeknown to them I had just completed an extensive paper looking into Japanese screens; looks can be deceiving.


TB: What do you think the art community could do to further progression away from privilege (if there is any)?

KM: Privilege in the art market is so closely entwined with exclusivity, and financial advantage; I think it would be hard to escape. The top end of the art market is largely built of collectors purchasing in order to diversify their financial portfolio, or to simply show off their wealth in a more aesthetic manner; a process known as conspicuous consumption. In the words of art theorist Thorstein Veblen: “Conspicuous consumption of valuable goods is a means of reputability to the gentleman of leisure”.


Interviewed by Tahmina Begum,

CEO and Editor-in-Chief

Visuals by Kerr Mcilwraith via Pen etc

Scandinavian-Collage-1 Scandinavian-Collage-2