Sunday, October 16, 2011

Art Fairs v Artist Led

Yesterday at Sluice Art Fair I took part in a panel discussion alongside Jasper Joffe and Alistair Gentry. Its was ‘Looking at the nature of art fairs within the contemporary art world as a whole - are they necessary? What's their relationship or even impact on art production? What's the effect on the way art is digested and understood by the wider public beyond the art world in-crowd?’ Some thoughts occurred to me that I didn’t manage to vocalise during the event – so here they are – please feel free to respond…

Transition Gallery is a not-for-profit, artist run space. When we curate / schedule shows we tend not to think about whether the work will sell but rather if we think it is interesting. Purely commercial operations do not have this luxury.

Art Fairs have become the place to buy work. More work is sold at fairs than in the gallery. A commercial gallery can not survive without doing art fairs especially a UK based gallery because there are not enough collectors in the UK to sustain the business. 

I am always surprised by the lists of British galleries showing in art fairs – many of them are pretty much ‘virtual’ – either having no or a truly tiny space or a very sporadically scheduled programmes. Sometimes they have a name which has connections to the people that matter (ie Carl Freedman) so they get the Frieze spot before other galleries who have much more interesting artists and ideas. It is all political. Incidentally even to apply to an art fair costs a considerable amount of money – this is not returned if you do not get selected.

'Strip', Transition Gallery's presentation at Sluice 

Art fairs tend to be – as far as I am concerned - terrible places to see work. Work by gallery artists is bundled together without thematic concerns. I like to see a show with work made by one artist or a group of artists assembled with an interesting curatorial idea. (At Sluice Transition are showing ‘Strip’, artists grouped together with the binding idea of work made in series, often with a filmic theme). At Frieze this year one of my favourite spaces was The Modern Institute – the work was interesting and well curated.

Artists make work in lots of different ways. For some really interesting artists the high-pressure (often production line attitude) world of commercial galleries does not suit them or their practice. These artists would be invisible if it were not for small not-for-profit and artist led spaces. There are also some artists whose work has a strong political ideology – I always feel that this sits uncomfortably in the commercial art world of oligarchs and art fairs.

There are some very successful artists who like to get involved with the artist-led scene. They have contemporaries who may not have had their success and want their work to be seen as they think it is good. These interesting shows happen in the artist-led gallery world.

There are good and bad commercial galleries. The good ones nurture their artists the bad ones try and sell, sell, sell.

Artists whether ‘commercial’ or not tend to want their work to be seen and responded to – this is why most of us make it. Independent spaces and art fairs such as Sluice are brilliant for this – they get more people in and get the work seen.

And finally artists can either wait for their careers to be controlled (or rejected) by the art elite (which in the UK is made up of what one artist I know calls ‘gentlemen gallerists’) or stop moaning and take control of how their work is shown and presented by setting up their own organisations.

There is lots more of course but these are my immediate thoughts.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Venice and brightly coloured blocks

Karla Black

I've just returned from my second Venice Biennale (my last visit was in 2003). It was a really sunny weekend and the city was heaving with tourists. The art bits were however pretty quiet which was a welcome relief from the cruise ship travelling / gondela riding masses.

My favourite thing by far was Karla Black's exhibition for the off-site Scottish pavilion. I love seeing contemporary work in ancient buildings and Venice's palazzos make brilliant gallerys. As you go up the stairs directed by hand painted Karla Black posters you are hit by a wall of smell - soapy perfume and sugary talc. The first room has Black's trade mark polythene sheets covered in various candy coloured powders. Subsequent rooms have large translucent blocks of soap cut into chunky shapes and standing on thin layers of compost and wafer thin paintings strung from fishing line.

William Eggleston
The chunky soap against its dark compost background reminds me of a William Eggleston photograph of brightly coloured plastic animals on a dark table. This is relevant because I saw the Eggleston image in a book of animal photography which I was looking at as research for the forthcoming Zoo show at Meter Room in Coventry.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sutton House and Mock Tudor

I'm into all things Tudor at the moment, in no small part inspired by the TV series The Tudors (which I know is a tad trashy but I love it). I visited Hampton Court a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it - it is just the right side of the line of unacceptability which so many museums have crossed when it comes to making history more interactive and enjoyable. I am also reading Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall which focusses on Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with Oliver) who was very much part of the Henry VIII story and was eventually executed by him. Today I visited Sutton House which is Hackney's only link with The National Trust and apparently the oldest surviving house in East London. I have been before but not for ages and had forgotten how nice it is - really quiet and intimate. What I hadn't realised was that the house was actually built by Ralph Sadleir who was a kind of apprentice to Thomas Cromwell and I have just been reading about him. Weird synchronicity.

The result of all this Tudor stuff is of course an exhibition which is called Mock Tudor and is a Transition Gallery offsite project, opening at 60 Ravenscourt Road in west London on 17 June. I'm making a series of Tudor inspired portraits. Mock Tudor is of course a derogatory term for the kind of suburban houses that have black wooden beams added as a decorative feature. Our interpretation is definitely more of a tribute than a critical annihilation. There is also going to be a FAKE themed issue of Garageland to further examine the themes of pastiche, copy, mock, original, authenticity etc etc.

Ralph Sadleir

Friday, March 11, 2011


Haydee 1922-1975 from The Count of Monte Cristo. Appearing soon at the Phoenix Gallery in Exeter.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Count of Monte Cristo

The Count of Monte Cristo was completed by Alexander Dumas in 1844. It is the ultimate adventure novel with all the plot twists that you could ever wish for. There have also been lots and lots of films and TV adaptations of the story - all of them very different. Because it is such a huge story there are numerous plots to pick and choose from and each film goes its own way - different romances, endings and deaths.

I have an interest in all things Monte Cristo at the moment because I am taking part in a couple of 'Monte' themed shows at Phoenix Art Centre, Exeter & Rogue Project Space, Manchester in April / May. My contribution is a series of paintings looking at how moments in the plot and characters have been depicted over the years. This painting is of the sometime Arabian, sometime Turkish, Princess Hayde√© as seen in 1961's Le Comte de Monte Cristo.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I was in Florence last week (and it was freezing). I know the names of all those great Italian Renaissance painters but to be honest I couldn't have told a Giotto from a Pierro della Francesca. But since seeing it all in situ I am hooked and today I had to pay a visit to the National Gallery (in London) to check out the beautiful paintings in the Sainsbury Wing (which is the best bit of the gallery and the least crowded).

My Florence highlight was the San Marco Museum. This is the monastery where Fra Angelica frescoed all of the monks cells. We went along early in the morning, it was pretty much empty and it was absolutely beautiful. Fra Angelica's paintings are almost minimalist - he eradicates all that showy off perspective and just cuts to the chase. When I went upstairs to where the cells are situated the first painting that greeted me (Annunciation - pictured below) was completely familiar. This is something that often happens when I visit the great art galleries of the world and it is because the painting is featured in a book called History of Painting which was published in 1961. This book belonged to my mum and when I was growing up I spent hours looking at it and subsequently I know all of the paintings in it (but don't necessarily know who they are by). I now have 'the book' in my possession - it is falling to pieces and really not that remarkable - but looking at it is an amazingly evocative experience.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I went to see Giselle at the Royal Opera House last week - Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo were dancing the leads. I am no ballet expert but I really like going to see the classic ballets, although this was my first time seeing Giselle. Lots of the reviews say that Acosta is past his best but he looked pretty amazing to me - he is nonchalant and effortless. The star though for me was the staging which was completely beautiful, especially the second act which is set in the forest at night and features the Wilis - a troop of ghostly girls all of whom died after being jilted at the altar. The Wilis costumes for this performance included little stubby wings which I thought at first looked a little strange but were very beautiful on mass. The whole thing was very Karen Kilimnik.