Venue:Kingston School of Art, Room 101, Knights Park Campus, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 2QJ
A colloquium event consisting of 9 invited speakers.
Keynote addresses were given by Dr Iain Robertson, Sotheby’s Eduction and Samuel Levack, artist and founder French Riviera.
The event was recorded by Reynir Hutber of This is Tomorrow for TECHNE use (and French Riviera, and This is Tomorrow under the provisio that the event is acknowledged as being supported by TECHNE – I am to be advised on this). Duratiopn about 2 hours after editing completed.
Main questions I as instigator of this gathering wanted to address were: What do artists want? What do curators, collectors and institutions want? Can artists own the galleries? Is there a more utopian solution? What other models are there?
1. The event began with an informal gathering for lunch and tea in the Staff Space at Kingston School of Art. On the most inclement of days the skies could offer us, it was astonishing to see over 50 individuals arrive from noon, to meet informally over lunch provided by the excellent catering team at Kingston University. This had, I believe, the effect of relaxing the audience into speaking more freely when it came to the event Q&A session, and certainly contributed to the subsequet discussion which lasted 5-8pm afterwards.
2. I introduced the event as an opportunity to discuss some fundamental questions in the context of considering the gallerist as a connecting, distributing, managing and selling force seen in other creative industries. The context of this was the release two weeks earlier of ‚The Art Market“ a report authored by Dr Clare McAndrew and commissioned/published by Art Basel and UBS. One striking conclusion from that was while the picture at the very top of the market, much like football, is extremely rosy, the fate of the emerging gallery market – and hence that of the artists that feed it – is very uncertain. For the first time since 2007, there are more galleries closing than opening; as hardly any opened in 2017, it actually means that many dozens have closed globally, not just in London (my main focus). Since my gallery also halted its programme in October 2016, and I said publically we sold 3 works from the gallery all year, this acknowledgement of a global downturn in the market is extraordinary, yet seemingky untroubling for the top end. It certainly lends a sense of urgency to an laready emotive topic for many „actors“ (to coin Bruno Latour’s terminology around Actor Network theory).
3. Iain Robertson made a wide ranging key note– though mostly ‘Alpha’ (read Blue-chip) gallery related – address about the art market as he saw it from a perspective reflecting his imediately preceding attendance at Art basel Hong Kong and Tefaf Maastricht. At the time I think it was a little too imprecise (I know the average price of a booth at Art Basel is not 100k but more like 30K) and the way collectors buy art at the level he is used to commentating upon is quite different from the emerging artist market that I am most used to navigating. However it provided a great counterpoint from which French Riviera could pronounce a kind of manifesto.
4. To that end Samuel Levack gave a clear and precise, if ideologically utopian, vision for a more egalitarian situation for young artists which, to the cynical, may have sounded like a call to make a universal income paramount for the future of artists in society. His introdction was for French Riviera’s curated section of the event in which they invited Judith Carlton and Matt Hale for a round table discussion, which lasted 40 minutes in all. I for one was probably not alone if thinking that there are many providing essential services to the public that would be more likely to politicaly have claim upon such funds! Matt Hale responded to questions from Jennifer Lewandowski about the history of City Racing (1988-98), most of the audience having not really know of that. It was illuminating to hear how only in hindsight did that space really have what we might call a programme. Often there was only one show a year, and initially it was really a small group of friends showing each other. Then Judith Carlton gave her perspective of working with often local, but not exclusively, artists at Café Gallery Projects. She is answerable to over 50 artists who must agree her programme! Judith acknowledged that she is attrcated to working with artists with whom she can have a a potntially commercially lucrative relationship for the gallery. Yet at the same time she is firmly not for profit – hence the contradictions inherent in the workings of institutions – and in the way in which large blue-chip galleries mimic the public sector in their education and presentation offer.
6. The panel was joined by Rachel Williams, owner of Vilma Gold (2000-2017) who in many ways had the most to reveal about how the emerging gallery actualy operates. Here she was reflective and generaous, and there is likely to be more follow up with her by myself directly. Roman Vasseur (Kingston School of Art), stepping in for Caroline Douglas (Contemporary Art Society), positioned the topic along more socio economic lines and the notion of art trading being somehow analogous with High Frequency Trading and distributive forms of cognition (as written about by Katherine Hayles), refecting of course hw own PhD studies. But again here the notion of the art world revolving around the notion of numerous fantasies was very prevalent and revealing. Many of the interviews with my peer group support the tendency to hyperbole and unworldly offerings that a gallery can make – as well of course the more prosaic administrative parts. In the end it comes down to relationships, most might say; until that is it comes down to money, is what I would add, when the relationship goes out the window (I think Michael Caine said something similar about the relationship between love and money). Judith Carlton’s point acknowledging that tradition gallery models not working – yet the fact a public sector – artist led model is continuing to evolve – such as the 40 years old Matts Gallery – shows that the model of an artist led space is likely the most equitable one, and which will form the basis of my research going forward.
7. Having such divergent views at the start of the colloquium (for want of a better word) positioned the ensuing panel discussions as a moderating vehicle, and brought it in line with most of the visiting audience’s experiences. However thankfully the presence of at least one high end collector (high net worth) propelled the discussion into contentious areas about value and commodity The event will have a follow up session in October most likely at Chelsea School of Art, proposed by Emma Gradin and Rosie Ram to look at the notion of „Value“ and what we mean by that. This was a key theme to arise from the day. Most of what gets written about art alludes to the idea of value – be it in monetary, ethical, social terms. The questions pertaining to my PhD remain for me to answer but are subject of several parallel talk events that have happened recently (Art Basel Hong Kong, Spike magazine). The objective of the day to raise more questions was certainly met and using Eventbrite means we have a clear idea of who attended and who is likely to attend again.
Biographies of speakers:
Dr Iain Robertson. Iain is Head of Art Business Studies at Sotheby's Institute of Art and has published widely, including Understanding Art Markets, Inside the World of Art and Business (2016).
Judith Carlton, Director of Cafe Gallery Projects, and previously Assistant Director of Matts Gallery. A publicly funded organisation, CGP London was founded in the 1983 by the Bermondsey Artists’ Group, and now encompasses the modernist exhibition space Cafe Gallery and Dilston Grove, a poured- concrete church converted into an exhibition space, both located in Southwark Park, Bermondsey.
Matt Hale, artist and co-founder with Paul Noble of City Racing which ran between 1988-1998.
Finally we will open up to all of you here borrowing a Question Time format where we would value your opinions and questions addressed to the panel which will be joined by Rachel Williams, owner of Vilma Gold, a gallery which ran for over 15 years before stopping its programme last year; Rachel started out an artist (in fact we were at Liverpool together many moons ago and who did an MA at the Royal Academy; and our moderator Roman Vasseur who kindly stepped in at the 11th hour for Caroline Douglas who has succumbed to the extreme flu which has been going around.
Roman Vasseur is an artist and is currently completing a PhD at Goldsmith's College entitled I am the Sun and Cannot be Gazed Upon Fixedly - Art and the Spectral Power of the Derivative. The thesis rethinks art's objects through a mixture of film theory, economics, political philosophy and informatics. He is currently senior lecturer at Kingston School of Art and Course Leader for the Fine Art postgraduate programme here.
Judith Carlton is Director at CGP London, an artist-led non profit art gallery and charity spread across two unique venues in the heart of Southwark Park. Previously Judith was the Assistant Director at non-profit Matt’s Gallery, London and Gallery Manager at Cubitt Gallery & Studios, London. She has also held positions at the Serpentine Galleries, London and The Hatton Gallery, Newcastle. A publicly funded organisation, CGP London was founded in the 1983 by the Bermondsey Artists’ Group, and now encompasses the modernist exhibition space Cafe Gallery and Dilston Grove, a poured- concrete church converted into an exhibition space, both located in Southwark Park, Bermondsey.
Jennifer Lewandowski and Sam Levack from French Riviera - artists and artist run space in Hackney
Rachel Williams is owner of Vilma Gold, a gallery founded in early 2000s and which stopped programming last year 2017 (like a lot of other spaces - Limoncello, IBID, MOT International, Mummery Schnell, Laura Bartlett…)
Matt Hale is an artist and co-founder of City Racing (1988-98), and Editor of The Art Monthly Talk Show