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Dispatches ZAVIER ELLIS

ZAVIER ELLIS

DISPATCHES Basel 2013

Zavier Ellis reports from Basel.

  • By ZAVIER ELLIS
  • Posted 11.06.2013
DISPATCHES Basel 2013

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DISPATCHES   Part 5

The Players: Associate Director of Timothy Taylor Gallery, Laurence Tuhey

Zavier Ellis: Laurence, you are Associate Director of the world renowned Timothy Taylor Gallery in London. Can you tell me a bit about your history and how you reached this point in your career?

Laurence Tuhey: I was very lucky to have my first introduction to the art world some 25 years ago working for Leslie Waddington and that really set the standard for my career to date. To be exposed to artists of the calibre of Picasso, Miro, Jasper Johns, Motherwell and many other museum quality artists was an education that money can’t buy. At Waddington's I met Tim Taylor and over the course of the last 20 years, apart from a brief interlude, I have worked with Tim.

This week you are exhibiting at Art Basel. How have you found the first few days and how does the 2013 edition compare with previous years?

It has been a very successful Art Basel for the gallery and the feeling of quality at the fair certainly indicates that most galleries will have had a good experience. We dedicated half our stand to Susan Hiller and her feature at Art Unlimited has been a real pleasure to be involved with. Of course having a stunning new painting by Sean Scully alongside Philip Guston will always set the tone for a successful Art Basel. My expectation is for one of the best yet.

Your booth is one of the strongest at the fair. Two standout pieces are the Susan Hiller and Philip Guston. How do you contextualise these pieces within the overall presentation?

We deliberately chose to present Guston in close proximity to other gallery artists who work within abstraction or who have responded to his legacy. Susan’s part of the stand is really a chance to show the incredible range of her work and some of the highlights of her wonderful career to date. 

Your gallery roster features established contemporary artists like Richard Patterson, Fiona Rae and Sean Scully as well as stellar 20th century names including Philip Guston, Antoni Tàpies and Andy Warhol. How do you balance your programme between the two approaches?

Having a varied and exciting program is the lifeblood of the gallery. There are already a number of links between some of the gallery artists, such as Antoni Tàpies and Jessica Jackson Hutchins, so it’s simply a question of drawing attention to that and then achieving the right balance between presenting established names and nurturing new talent.

And finally, with so many art fairs globally, how are they relevant? Is the template shifting? And where does Basel figure in all of this for you?

Yes there are a number of fairs throughout the world with Art Basel acting as a hub for the best international galleries. Art Fairs give clients the opportunity to see a greater scope of work in one location and an opportunity to see works by artists they may not have considered previously. Art Basel is the premier fair and clients are able to view the most prestigious works in one location. 

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DISPATCHES   Part 4

The Players: Artistic Director & co-founder of VOLTA art fair, Amanda Coulson

 

Zavier Ellis: Amanda, as co-founder and Artistic Director of VOLTA you are truly committed to the cause and understand the project from the inside out. How did the show come about and what was your original vision?

Amanda Coulson: The show came about when Friedrich Loock, Kavi Gupta and my then partner, now husband, Uli Voges, were sitting at Art Cologne back in 2004 and talking about Basel. Uli was pretty-much born in a three-piece suit and sharp, lace-up leather shoes; as a young gallery, he was invited to Liste but always felt it was not his crowd… he was never the Puma-wearing, funky hipster guy… and aside from that he is a severe claustrophobe! As much as I love Liste and really admire what they achieved, their location is indeed quite a challenge.  There is some work that just looks displaced there, and I really always feel so sorry for the galleries who are given a corridor as their booth (with even a light switch or a fire extinguisher in the middle of their wall). For me, as an art critic at the time, I was less interested in going to the big fairs where there were few discoveries to make and wanted a place with the same production value as the main fair but for the galleries who were still on the upward trajectory. 

Another really important factor for us were the artists: several of the founder (and other) galleries had represented artists early on in their careers and then, as happens quite naturally, they got picked up by bigger galleries, already at the main fair, who would then show the artists on that platform, while the original "mother" gallery was still considered too young for the main fair but then not young or hip enough for Liste. And also at that time -- at 38/39 years old -- I was getting touchy about this "young" art thing,  and "young" galleries, artists under forty… huh? So, being over 40 meant not being able to come up with a fresh idea or have any talent? There were no artists over 40 who were "emerging”? Youth is not a talent and as far as dealers go, being open for only 3 years is not a particularly noteworthy achievement, so we felt there was room for another alternative fair with a selection criteria other than age. The vision also had to do with the booths themselves. I am still to this day surprised at how some approach this -- whether at a small satellite or at the main fair --  as an opportunity to slap up 5-8 artists, who do not relate one to the other at all, and just sell. I never really understood that. I always told the galleries that a fair was the opportunity to show a public what they did in their gallery and no dealer just puts up 10 unrelated works without a theme or a concept. So we always asked galleries to "curate" their booths with a little more consideration than just the market. This wasn't always easy and we had a lot of arguments … but it worked.

So the global concept was to create a place for good, serious galleries -- young OR "old" -- with a strong history of supporting emerging art -- young OR "old" -- who were somehow overlooked, and to make a fair where the art was put into a context, even if tenuously (because you are still in a fair after all…), at least within the three walls of the booth.

To all of our complete surprise, because we simply thought of it as  an experimental project, we really hit a nerve and it was an explosion from the get-go. This fact that we had discovered a niche was confirmed by Art Basel then coming up with their Premiere section a year later in 2006, which assumed several of our original exhibitors; Armory has followed with their Solo and Focus sections; then Liste changed their age requirement and came up with their "graduates" section… the market confirmed there was a missing piece, so we were satisfied by that.

VOLTA Basel is now in its 9th year. How has the show evolved throughout this period?

Well, first of all its evolved in terms of our own increasing expertise; we were always concerned with production value and made sure there was almost museum-quality lighting and walls, clear maps and legible signage, but to be honest in the beginning we were just a group of friends with a bunch of interns, who thought it would be a fun thing to put up a show. We were all quite naive and it was very do-it-yourself, up ladders and hammering in signage, and the exhibitors were schlepping their own crates and screwing together our IKEA furniture for us (which we then rented back to them!)… we have a lot of extremely funny stories from the early years, which actually we're going to collect and publish on our tenth anniversary next year. We've tried to maintain this sort of familial and close relationship and make an effort to go speak to every exhibitor every day to listen to them; we always do an annual debrief and then write to all of our exhibitors asking for them to give us constructive feedback, so we can continue to evolve and improve. 

Obviously it's also evolved in terms of size, though we are always trying to keep the numbers down as much as we can, as we always wanted it to be an easy, even pleasant visiting experience, not up and down stairs and into crowded, badly-lit basements, elbowing people in tight corridors to be able to see anything. However, to go from the initial 23 galleries to 75 - 85, which is about our usual limit, we had to rethink the curatorial aspect. With VOLTA NY -- which is all solo shows and done very intentionally because of all that's going on in NY the same week -- we saw how well-received that was and so we re-thought Basel and now, even here, we strongly advise galleries to limit their presentation to dialogues between two artists or perhaps 3-man shows.

Some galleries do rotating solo shows all week or re-hang every two days to keep tight presentations but still be able to represent their full stable. The idea behind VOLTA is legibility, ease of visibility, and most of all discovery. Lots of people tell me they come allotting themselves one, maybe two hours, to visit and end up staying for several hours. Collectors often return two days in a row, that's because with fewer artists they actually spend more time in the booths, really getting to know them, and because it's simply a really pleasant environment to be in, not overwhelming and visually exhausting.

One revelation for me and a major evolution was the catalogue. I always find show catalogues to be very expensive (and heavy) phone books and who uses a phone book anymore? The 4-colour, bound catalogues require a very long lead time in terms of production, so often the photo in the catalogue is not even an image of work that is in the booth, which I never found very helpful, and there is a tendency for only one image and no text, just a list of artist names. For the gallery and artists it did nothing, so we literally broke apart and re-created it to make a tool that was useful for both visitor and gallery. With black-and-white offset printing, turnaround is short, so all images (we allow up to 5) are in the booth; there is room for a critical text, so it's much more informative. The visitor can then collect pages and make a bespoke catalogue that represents their own visit and serves as an aide memoire; the dealer meanwhile is given 1,000 brochures on his represented artists rather than a single paperback catalogue that sits on the desk. 

VOLTA New York was your idea. What was the motivation behind establishing VOLTA in New York and how did you seek to create its identity in relation to VOLTA Basel and to other New York fairs?

Well, to be honest, it wasn't my idea! We had thought about taking VOLTA to a second city but had not really settled on a location -- except being agreed it would NOT be Miami. Then, in 2008, we were purchased by MMPI, the others founders then focusing again more on their respective galleries, and I was retained as Executive Director to oversee VOLTA's growth. MMPI really wanted us to open elsewhere: first Chicago, which we entirely rejected, and then NY. I was reluctant, at first, because of the fair scene there, which was already quite developed -- The Armory Show, Pulse, Scope, plus a whole slew of other fairs -- and it didn't interest me to go in and be the sixth or seventh fair in New York. We felt that in Basel we had really brought something additional to the city, the three fairs functioned well together -- clearly different but complementary -- and that we filled a gap.

We always said the same criteria should apply to another VOLTA, in that we should bring something to the table, add something meaningful to the conversation and not just catch some kind of overflow. At that time, in 2007-2008, The Armory Show was only for contemporary galleries and living artists but there was no "young section." The few emerging galleries that were added were few and far between and mixed into the main fair so I thought perhaps, since we were now partner fairs (The Armory had also been purchased by MMPI), we could function as an extension of their fair and provide the emerging section. Due to the other fairs already active in the city, the sheer amount of artwork on view was already enormous and I was thinking of a way to strip down even further, to keep the viewer engaged, to give them a place of respite, even. As you noted, it was also important to differentiate from our own Basel brand because to produce two completely similar fairs, with the same concept, with the same gallery list, is also not interesting. We were also responding to the nature of the city: Basel has always been about the market; New York, on the other hand, has a critical mass of curators, writers, many other art world professionals outside of collectors, who mightn't have the budget to travel... So, that's how the idea for an entirely solo fair came up, to make it like studio visits -- it really set us apart from the other satellites, connected us in a more meaningful way to our "sister fair" and, again, it proved to be more of a success than we had anticipated, consolidating us right away as "the second fair" during Armory Arts Week. 

As well as running two art fairs you have also been an art critic, a curator, are now a museum director and have extensive prior experience working in galleries in New York, Paris and London. Many don’t realise that art world people often wear several ‘hats’. Some see it is an advantage whereas others struggle to understand. What is your perspective and how do your activities feed into each other (or not)?  

Yes, a lot of hats indeed! Let's be honest, part of it is economic. Nobody likes to talk about money in our business and while, yes, we all get into it for passion, there are still very real basic needs… like eating! There are not that many who can really support themselves entirely on a critic's salary and it's necessary to do some consulting or curating, or to juggle some other projects that can simply help get the kids through school. Uli and I were extremely lucky that MMPI came along shortly after our second daughter was born (we actually found out we were expecting her on the first day of the first VOLTA…) because a regular, reliable salary in this business is not so easy to come by. 

There were some that said it was a "conflict of interest" to be an art critic and an art fair director simultaneously. All I can say to that is a naughty word that my kids would tell me off for using! I mean, seriously, letting galleries select who their competition would be? That is also pretty laughable if you think about it. Does Porsche get to decide if Skoda can do the car show (or be in the booth next to them)? No, absolutely not, yet we accept it as entirely normal that certain dealers can have absolute control over who their neighbours will be.  How is an art critic in a worse position to make this selection than a fellow dealer?

Precisely because of the way the art world is there are loads and loads of potential conflicts: curators dating artists, artists curating shows, museum directors married to dealers, critics with artists… these all exist and they are all tricky to navigate but we have to trust in the personal moral compasses of these individuals. My wonderful colleague and co-Director of VOLTA NY, Christian Viveros-Fauné, was indeed let go from his critical post at the Village Voice because some other journalist made a big fuss about it, saying how it was a conflict of interest, and that to me was just absurd. Christian is one of the most grounded, non-biased, clear-thinking, intelligent and moral people I know, so to make this accusation, that he couldn’t keep his boundaries clear, was just laughable. 

Not all Bankers are "banksters," not all Lawyers are ambulance chasers… every industry has it's shameful participants but also every industry has those people who are very good at staying within the boundaries of what's acceptable. Of course I informed the magazines that I wrote for and clarified our borders. It wasn't that hard: there are plenty of artists and shows to review or write about who don't do VOLTA and, quite honestly, I do feel that VOLTA has always looked better than the average satellite fair because I came at it from a different standpoint aside from "the market" or simply selling floor space. Having worked at galleries has given me the viewpoint of the fair's clientele and I have been told many times that I am a fair director who makes the gallery feel like the client, that I am working for them as much as for the VIPS… because I look at everything from their point of view, every extra charge, every decision that can ultimately affect their week, their sales, their contacts… 

To have a critical, art historical background and look at galleries and artists from that viewpoint and consider how to put them together is entirely different than being just a trade fair organiser; to be able to look at things from different viewpoints -- to literally be able to stand in someone else's shoes because you have actually stood in them already -- I simply cannot see how that's a bad thing.

Finally, for someone who is so consumed by the art world how do you escape from it when you have the chance? 

I hang out with my kids -- though I'm afraid even they have been "tainted"!! But they have a fresh and very funny way to look at things. The island we live on is pretty ramshackle and we were driving through, let's say, one of the less well-maintained parts of town and there was this old, rusty satellite -- one of those really huge ones people had in the '80s -- and our youngest daughter Daisy, 6 at the time, asked, "Mummy, is that art?" I have to say I almost drove off the road I was laughing so hard… she's been around A LOT of fairs and Biennales so it kind of made a comment on the work she's been seeing recently.

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DISPATCHES   PART 3 Volta Basel

The Players: Collector Steve Shane

Zavier Ellis: Steve, you are known globally for being a voracious collector. When, how and why did you first get into collecting?

Steve Shane: It all started in high school in a Detroit, Michigan suburb. I was introduced to art history by my Humanities teacher. Nancy is still my friend after all these years. She first taught me all about Surrealism and Salvador Dali. I was hooked immediately. Then, I studied art history at the University of Michigan. My favourite class. I don’t like the term art collector. I consider myself to be an art historian and an art lover. I also consider myself to be a curator, because I curate my collection. When I went to New York City at the age of 19 to see the art I studied in person, I found myself going to the book shops of the museums and buying reproduction posters and post cards of the art work that engaged me. Before long, all the walls of my college apartments were covered with these art posters and post cards. I had the urge to be surrounded by art and to live with the art. I do the same thing today with original works of it. I hang the collection salon style. I am addicted to art. Having a ball in Basel. It’s my 23rd Art Basel. 23 years in a row!!!

Some collectors have a very tight remit for subjects, styles or periods in work that they are looking for and some are completely open. It seems to me you are open but what is it about a work or an artist that makes you acquire?

I try not to buy any more art, but I am completely addicted. I can smell sincerity in an artist. The work has to move me and I need to relate to it. No one advises me. I buy with my heart and eyes. I do not buy with my ears. Several themes have popped up subconsciously: Art about art, sense of humour, seduction meets repulsion, dysfunctional family, painting without paint, photography of invention, the element of the fake, bad girl, bad boy, and more.

You make a lot of effort to travel to see art and enjoy building relationships with art world people. What is your view of ‘the circuit’ for better and for worse?

I love “the circuit.” I find great enjoyment in running into fellow art lovers and talking about art and the art world. I really enjoy meeting artists who I admire. I especially like speaking to art history professors. I enjoy asking them what was their doctoral thesis. Usually leads to interesting conversations. My social life is dominated by art fairs, gallery tours, studio visits and museum visits. The circuit is much larger than it used to be and I think a lot of people are in the art world who don’t know that much about art history. Many people lack an art history foundation, which I think is important.

You’re here at Basel doing the rounds with a packed itinerary. Which fairs stand out for you? Which galleries? And which artists?

I had a very wonderful experience at Liste Fair this year going to the IBID gallery booth. The owner, Magnus Edensvard, explained the work of the Greek artist, Rallou Panagiotou, in a fascinating way. This artist is a new discovery for me. The more Magnus spoke of the work in such a passionate way, the more it moved me. The work is very esoteric, which I like. It is also political and about materials as metaphors. The story does enhance the work.

Last year, the same thing happened to me, hearing Moritz Willborn and Iris Kadel of Kadel Willburn Gallery, speak of the work of Helen Feifel. Helen buys ceramic works and destroys them and makes new work out of the broken pieces. Very “bad girl”!

I like when the work becomes even more engaging, the more the dealer explains it to me. This happened at Volta fair with the artist Hartmut Stockter at Larm Gallery of Copenhagen. Stockter’s work is about nature, the lack of it, and one’s longing for nature in a very humorous way. Lars Rahbek of Larm Gallery explained the work so eloquently. These are the types of conversations I like. I often spend 30 minutes at one booth. Same thing happened at Charlie Smith’s booth at Volta Fair when you explained the work of Tom Butler to me. Butler alters old calling cards in a surrealistic manner.

I spent a lot of time at Art Unlimited. I enjoyed reading the text that was available for each work. I was especially moved by what Rob Pruitt wrote about his work. His installation was composed of a huge number of colourful abstract paintings, and each one has a face painted on it. Here is an excerpt of what Pruitt wrote, which caused me to shed a few tears:

“When I was a kid, my father, a really loving man and a great father, tried to get me to play sports with him in the backyard. And I did that, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do. What I really wanted was to be taken to the art museums. My father, having no idea what art even was, would take me to the museums at the very early age of eight or nine. I would stand in front of Rothko paintings and just be over the moon about them. He would make jokes like: ‘Wouldn’t this be a little better if the artist had drawn a face over it?’ Then he would gesture with his hands, with an invisible Magic Marker: two eyes and mouth. I guess all these years later I still associate that with love and attention.”

This text brought tears to my eyes. Later I went to the director of Gavin Brown Gallery (Pruitt’s dealer) and asked if Pruitt’s father was alive. He is not. A shame his dad couldn’t see his son’s work at Art Basel. What a tribute to his daddy. This was my most moving experience in Basel this year.

And finally, as an experienced collector what advice would you have for young / emerging collectors? And on the other side, what advice would you have for gallerists in the way that they interact with collectors.

I like the art dealers who tell me about the artist and what their work is about. I DO NOT want to know: what awards the artist won, what museum shows are coming up, who is buying the work, nor what article is going to be written. I find this kind of banter very annoying and sad.

My advice to young/emerging collectors is to wear comfortable shoes, and go to lots of art museums and lectures. Buy only what you like. Make your own decisions. Keep an open mind.

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DISPATCHES  PART 2

 Volta Basel 2013

SPARKS VIDEO ACTION

You know you’re at an international art fair when you see people in some art fair city that you only ever see in, well, some art fair city. Like a travelling circus, the art world moves on from New York to Basel to London to Miami etc. like an eternally recurring ouroboros caravan. And what does this mean? This means Volta is doing its job by attracting the best of the art world. Michael & Susan Hort, Jean Pigozzi, Steve Shane and Ole Faarup have all been by the booth and the initial reports of sales at the fair have been good. I’m pleased to hear that one of my first day spots, Myeongbeom Kim, has sold two sculptures with one priced over $30,000. These are really alluring sculptures that combine craftsmanship and taxidermy in natural materials to create visual poetry.

And the Brits are also in town. Gallerists Joe la Placa (OK not Brit but adopted), Oliver Sears, Ian Rosenfeld & Charlie Phillips; critic Paul Carey-Kent; Art Review’s Patrick Kelly; and insurance broker Louise Hallett have helped me keep my small piece of green and pleasant land green and pleasant.

But what’s going on with the art? Today I’m thinking more about sculptureas there are some very intriguing and original sculptors included in the show. Every time I pass by Galerie Martin Kudlek of Cologne I get caught out by Sofie Muller’s life-size schoolboy sculpture ‘Brandt’. Standing dejectedly, or despairingly, with his head against the wall, face in turned, young Brandt has left a smear of paint against the wall where he has dragged himself along it. Made of bronze and burnt wood and realistically painted, the sculpture represents chastisement, isolation & solemnity.

Satoru Tamura, at Tezukayama Gallery, Osaka, harnesses the scientific to make constructions that look, feel and sound like the experiments of an eccentric physicist. There is an element of play, but they are also threatening as, for example, a pendulum swings, touching a live plate at its nadir which sparks into life with each pass.

Gabriel Barcia-Colmbo at Muriel Guepin Gallery, New York, embraces technology to make clever projections onto glass objects. They refer to the idea of imprinting and personal digital archiving for future generations.‘Double Yolk I’, a small video screen imbedded in a handmade acorn shaped ceramic, is the pick of the work. Recalling Bill Viola, the miniature screen displays two lovers who appear to cajole then caress then reject each other in a cycle of intimacy, attraction and aggression.

But if I was going to take a sculpture home it would be the afore mentioned Myeongbeom Kim at Gallery Skape, Seoul. Taxidermy is not unusual these days but there is simplicity and expert craftsmanship in Kim’s work that makes it pure, meditative and beautiful.  

 

DISPATCHES PART 1 Volta Basel 2013

POWER OF PAPER

Paper is on my mind, having scheduled a big three weeks for our most recent gallery signing Eric Manigaud. As I write, VOLTA9 at Basel is moving into gear with its Guest of Honour opening, and we have two major works on show, one already sold to a billionaire collector from the US. Next week Eric stars in Saatchi’s exhibition Paper, and then we launch his first one person in London at the gallery. So, although I was asked to have a think about painting versus photography, my recalcitrant little brain is thinking more about painting versus drawing. Or photography versus drawing. Or perhaps just drawing.

There are several standout presentations of work on paper at Volta. And interestingly three of those are with my British compatriots. Manchester based project space The International 3 are showing Rachel Goodyear, whose bestial drawings that operate somewhere between the perverse and the carnivalesque, have now evolved into video animation. Newcastle's Vanehas presented, as I have come to expect from them, a delicate and precise two person featuring Michael Mulvihill and Stephen Palmer. Mulvihill’s tiny drawings of war scenes and war mongers sit very well with Palmer’s trompe l’oeil re-renderings of newspaper articles and obituaries. David Risley completes the trio with Robert McNally’s drawings that are a contemporary brand of old masterly surrealism. David’s putting him in all the right places and he's already becoming a sought after artist.

Away from my nationalistic bias are Franz Burkhardt at Sebastian Brandl, Cologne and Rik Smits at Ron Mandos, Amsterdam. Burkhardt, using pencil, collage, Indian ink and print techniques in various combinations, presents a collection of randomly framed pieces that vary in subject matter from everyday objects to hardcore porn. It is with the latter when he is at his most seductive, but the variety works well to create a sense of the nostalgic and archival. Smits, on the other hand, is a draughtsman who works up to 240 x 350cm with Monument Rock Island. His drawings of fictional architecture recall Paul Noble, but Smits displays more variety and stronger technique. And so this makes Saatchi’s next show Paper, opening next week back in London, all the more prescient, and helps to affirm that paper never went away and still retains its power.  Perhaps though, it is undergoing a reappraisal. Historically being a preparatory medium, work on paper still has a sense of immediacy but can now simultaneously be a finished work. And as all of the artists above show, paper has kept up with technological advances from mass production to photography to the architectural to video, and responded to them in order to combine the traditional and the modern. And as such, should it not be valued higher monetarily? A painting of equal size will nearly always be worth more despite the amount of time and labour involved. A move towards a higher recognition of the intrinsic value of a work on paper should in turn result in a higher recognition in the price.

Comments

Jay Atterbury UK
2013-06-13 11:08

Paper Power

Saatchi show sounds hot - i'll def get there. Drawing has been badly sidelined by new generation. Would be great to see a resurgence of definable talent !

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