Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you ever wanted to know about the art world but didn’t know who to ask. I’m your host, Charlotte Burns. Today we’re in Central London, joined by Stuart Shave and Sarah McCrory.
Sarah was formally the Director of the Glasgow International, Scotland’s largest contemporary art biennial. Before taking the helm of the festival, Sarah was the curator of Frieze Projects and a co-curator at Studio Voltaire in London.
Sarah McCrory: “But for every one of those artist who shows that those galleries, there are hundreds and hundreds who are fighting their way daily through how to exist and how to make work. And they are fighting.”
Since 2017, Sarah has been the first director of Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art, which opened in the form of boiler house and public laundry of the historic Laurie Grove Baths in 2018.
Stuart is the proprietor of Stuart Shave Modern Art, which has been a staple of the London gallery scene for more than two decades representing artists, including Richard Tuttle, Eva Rothschild and Richard Aldrich. The gallery sets open a new space in Mayfair this spring.
Stuart Shave:“Is there a danger that we’re going into a moment where artists are going to be making facsimiles of the best works in order to be in art fair? This idea that the art world economy has to constantly and perpetually accelerate is something that I’m really thinking about right now.”
Sarah and Stuart, thank you so much for being my guest today.
Sarah McCrory: You’re welcome.
Stuart Shave: Thanks for having us.
Charlotte Burns: Before we get to today’s episode, here’s a reminder to subscribe to our newsletter at artagencypartners.com.
Now onto the show.
Sarah and Stewart, here we are in London. It’s always nice to be here. For me, whenever I come back, it’s sort of a marker in time. I used to live here and it’s interesting to track the way the city’s changing and the UK art scene.
Stuart Shave: I’m feeling very positive about the London art world in itself. It made me have a great art world here. I guess the contentious issue is the fact that we are now going to leave the European Union. This is something that I think everyone in all industries is really thinking about.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah, I think it is a worrying time. Of course, from our position, we’re in a great place for art and artists always find ways. But at the same time, the support structure that surrounds artists practices is in a very precarious place—
Charlotte Burns: In this city?
Sarah McCrory: In this city or maybe in major cities.
Charlotte Burns: When Goldsmiths opened, you were quoted as saying at the time when cuts and closures threaten our cultural institutions, the opening of a new gallery is an exciting and encouraging occasion. is that what you mean? The cuts and closures?
Sarah McCrory: I do. It’s not a new narrative around how artists struggle to live and work in major cities, but it hasn’t changed particularly. Especially being based at Goldsmiths of course you see, hundreds of arts students coming out of the university every year and looking to stay in the city. I feel slightly on the front line of watching people struggle and watching artists make it. I think the cuts and closures always threaten the landscape.
The London art world, you talk about every time you come back, it shifted and changed. It’s been in a constant revival and renewal. There’s an ongoing kind of organic life of that art world in London, which has always in some ways very buoyant. But, I do worry about how we keep it a place for artists and how we keep it a place for culture. I think that ties back into thinking about how our new government spends and supports it.
Charlotte Burns: We’ve been through a period of austerity in the UK where the government has been cutting funding to everything, really. The new Tory government is promising massive investment in lots of different things. It’s not clear what their position is on culture yet.
Sarah McCrory: Yes.
Charlotte Burns: There’s been a moment in which the UK institutions have been in this strange funding, kind of liminal position where they’re not quite on the US model where they’re almost entirely reliant on private funding; they get public funding but increasingly minuscule amounts—and yet are held accountable for being the face of the public.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah.
Charlotte Burns: We did a show last year with Nick Cullinan from the National Portrait Gallery—and I was thinking that it’s actually quite difficult if you’re trying to please this idea of the public, and also the board, and then your private funders, and you have to get money for shows.
Goldsmiths was funded by an auction of work by e-alumni at Christies and that was around $1.5m dollars; trusts, named-galleries, that sort of stuff. How is fundraising now?
Sarah McCrory: I would say that we are stretched across different demands and different people. But you know, one thing I would say is that having government investment has also seen some positive things come out for that. I remember a long time ago working in arts council funded organizations were required to consider more diversity and gender equality. I remember working for some people who in the past would be frustrated about box-ticking. No one uses that phrase anymore today.
Charlotte Burns: That’s so true.
Sarah McCrory: The box-ticking conversation is really, it’s dead because now the consideration of diversity and gender equality in major institution programming is of course completely vital. I think some of those things are now embedded in what we do.
For us at Goldsmiths CCA, we’re only a year old so in lots of ways, we’re still finding our way. We do what everyone else does. When I first started, there was a conversation about what could we do that was new and different? How could we be innovative? You can’t really reinvent that wheel. It’s just always finding, wherever you can, supporters and people who understand the work you’re doing. We’re trying to do it all. We’re appealing to philanthropists. We work with galleries. We work with trusts and foundations. We’re doing what everyone else does. Sometimes it feels very hand to mouth.
Of course, there’s a wider longer-term strategy for these things. But, to be honest, it’s just trying every which way. Because, as we don’t really know what’s going to happen with cultural funding and support, you’ve got to keep all of those routes open.
I know the Arts Council, Nick Serota, recently said that they want to increase funding to artists directly, which I think is great. Maybe that goes back to the conversation around how artists can live and work, across the country of course.
Anyway, how are we funded? In any which way we can.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Sarah McCrory: That again, as a new institution, what you don’t have is a group of a group of people who’ve seen the history of what you do.
Charlotte Burns: The success, yeah.
Sarah McCrory: You don’t have a history of a program so they don’t automatically know. Some of that has been a shock to me at how hard it’s been to get people on board. But then the flipside of it is that some people have seen the potential of it instantly and have come on board and supported whole galleries and programs and so on. So yeah, it’s a bit of a patchwork quilt of a funding situation.
Charlotte Burns: A lot of this comes down to the UK today, which is in a moment obviously of massive and profound change. It’s about to leave the European Union. There’s just been one of the nastiest elections in recent memory.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah.
Charlotte Burns: I know that that was something that was divisive in the art world as well. Stuart, you and I have spoken in the past about this idea of social progress and success, and the idea that when you reach a level of success, it’s not expected of you—or desired of you, necessarily—to talk about social progress or your beliefs in that.
Stuart Shave: Yeah, to an extent, but I would say that some of the wealthiest collectors that I know are people that are directly using their wealth to facilitate charity giving and pushing things forward and giving back.
What was really interesting to me in this election was really just seeing how right-wing an element of the art world has become. This idea that we will propel ourselves into complete financial uncertainty on the basis that we are protecting an idea of democracy… But, in truth, this decision, this referendum that was made, I don’t think it ever should have been voted for in the first place. For that reason alone, I think David Cameron should go down in history as one of the worst Prime Ministers we’ve ever had.
But, to go back to your question, it seems to me that there is this idea that one cannot be successful and be aligned with more of a social agenda. That’s one of the things that really surprised me in this election.
Sarah McCrory: I’d also add to that; one of the things that’s amazing is the complete lack of understanding from a lot of people who were being very vocal, is that they’re tied up in a world where the very people that they are in turn persecuting—which are artists—are the people who often are living on the breadline and have precarious lifestyles and have less income.
It’s very easy to just think about artists as large handful of people who show with the biggest galleries in London. But for every one of those artist who shows that those galleries, there are hundreds and hundreds who are fighting their way daily through how to exist and how to make work. And they are fighting. When you work a full-time job and you’re still making work as an artist, it’s pretty heroic endeavor.
Actually, I think just the lack of understanding of how those conservative positions impact on those people from whom you in turn benefit financially, culturally, spiritually was just really… it shouldn’t have been shocking to me; but it was at the time.
I think one of the reasons that Stuart and I have spoken a lot about this is about around how completely baffled we can be, potentially somewhat naively, about the people we exchange and who we work with. Who we share a world with somehow.
Charlotte Burns: I think there’s a sense in the art world, this is something that’s come up in our podcasts in the past. It’s always been a surprise to us when we do these data studies to see exactly how little change there is because there’s so much conversation about the things that people believe in. What it often makes you wonder is the extent to which more information might be helpful actually, even if it’s a little painful. Because when we do the data studies, looking at the women data study, the most recent one we did, the fact that there was absolutely no progress in US institutional collecting since 2009
And yet when I’ve been speaking to people in the UK about it—we were interviewed about the data for two different publications—the response each time was, well, it’s probably better in the UK. And I was thinking, why? Why would you think that?
In the art world, we’re able to labor under whichever story we want to tell ourselves because there’s not really much to counter balance that. There’s no fact checking, So perhaps, we’re at a moment of reckoning with what the art world is. Kind of what we’re discussing, in a way, is the increasing professionalization and financialization of the art world.
Sarah McCrory: I recently was on a panel to award a young artist with a prize of £10,000 with some runners up receiving £1,000. All of them who applied had to write this proposal but also disclose their annual income. I think we got down to a shortlist of about 12 and of those most people were earning around £12,000 a year and living in London.
Charlotte Burns: Wow.
Sarah McCrory: That was what they were declaring with some extra work or support in kind. But, there was no one earning even close to a London living wage for an annual salary. These are artists you would know; these are artists doing well on some kind of circuit, whether that’s work sharing with artist run spaces or younger commercial galleries.
I mean, I agree. I think that statistics and clarity around statistics would be really helpful. But also, what’s the kind of future of how artists are funded? Is there a way somehow of creating a more significant kind of trickle-down structure—I mean, galleries in a sense do that in as much as I’m sure that the support that some of the artists who earn less are supported by some of the artists who—
Stuart Shave: Absolutely.
Sarah McCrory:—earn more. A gallery does that. But of course, not that many artists are really with galleries.
Charlotte Burns: Well also, galleries themselves are under pressure.
Stuart, you’re expanding, which we can talk about in a minute, but we know that galleries are under increasing pressure, especially in the middle. Are you positive about galleries right now?
Stuart Shave: It’s something I think about a lot; thinking about what is the accountability of galleries and what should be the shared ethics and morals of galleries at this point? In this kind of model, where constant franchising and expansion seems to be the status quo, or to at least aspire towards that.
But, I think that we also have to really ask serious questions about the climate crisis as well and how accountable the art world can be. There’s been a lot written in the broad sheets about how much money is spent on contemporary art and the prices things achieve at auction and whatnot. But, this should not be at the expense of the market turning a blind eye to the consequences of flying crates back and forth across the world, or people taking flights to attend just one opening and then flying back again. there’s a lot of work that can be done in terms of how we audit ourselves and our businesses in that regard.
Charlotte Burns: How do you propose that happen?
Stuart Shave: Well, we’re in the middle of such an audit ourselves at the minute. But one thing that I’ve personally, what I’m doing with Modern Art, is actually cutting out a third of the art fairs that we’re doing this year.
We are looking at ways to ship work rather than air-freight it, which makes a big difference. We’re looking at, for instance, when you have an opening in your gallery, a number of artists’ agents might fly in: sometimes there might be three or four other galleries flying in to show their support to that artist. Actually, what we were talking about is: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but why don’t you not come?”
These are all small changes. Really what needs to happen is big policy changes. Frieze Art Fair in fact did release a document just before Frieze London that listed a lot of ways and they’d been working with extinction rebellion to suggest ways that the art world can reduce its carbon emissions.
Sarah McCrory: We’ve been having some very initial early conversations in the gallery, thinking around how we can work with artists to address these ideas head-on in terms of their work. A lot of this has to be driven by artists. That’s the other thing is that you can be a gallery and you can be an organization requesting and pushing for this. But actually, as Stuart’s saying, in order to not have your galleries fly out to your museum show, the artist has to say “Please, don’t come” because—
Charlotte Burns: The reason the galleries fly out is because the artists are the number one asset for any gallery.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah, they want to show support; they want to sell work.
Charlotte Burns: Exactly. You want to sell the work, you want to host the dinner and you also want to make sure that your artist doesn’t get poached by anybody else.
Stuart Shave: Yeah, I mean, how do you reconcile that with your business interests and not short circuit what your business is? But, perhaps just think about priorities. I guess that’s what we’ve been doing, is thinking about how can we fly less. What are the steps that we can take that we don’t think will be detrimental to the business, but that will actually have some form of impact?
Charlotte Burns: So you don’t think it’d be detrimental to cut a third of the fairs? That’s interesting.
Stuart Shave: No, I don’t.
I think that doing art fairs is a great way of telling a story about your gallery; showing the narrative of your artists. And some of them I really, really enjoy. But, being on a treadmill where you are expected to be going to one of these almost every month is just not helping anybody.
Sarah McCrory: And also, as we discussed, just on a practical level with artists you’re constantly asking for artists to make really great works for fairs.
Stuart Shave: Yes.
Sarah McCrory: When of course, you also want them to make really great works for institutional shows and museum shows. Maybe there would be a different kind of impact on how artists work, not being demanded to make six works for big fairs.
Stuart Shave: Absolutely. And also, is there a danger that we’re going into a moment where artists are going to be making facsimiles of their best works in order to be in art fair? This idea that the art world economy has to constantly and perpetually accelerate is something that I’m really thinking about right now, and thinking about how you can consolidate the success of a growing business with some of these concerns.
Sarah McCrory: Maybe it’s a new era of the dematerialization of the art world…
Sarah McCrory: I think that’s really interesting. I think even thinking more locally, there’s a huge group of artists who’ve move to the South Coast and who are very much in proximity to the city, but then they’re creating new communities and new environments to make work. That’s in Margate or down on the South Coast in St. Leonards and Hastings. I think that’s really exciting that things are being moved from the center—but also you don’t want that at the expense of the center.
That’s the conversation that you can take larger and internationally around whether artists—whether it’s fairs or whether it’s biennials—is reducing those things and making them more focused. Using the word local in inverted commas, but making them more specific just means that when you do have the opportunity to go to another place is that actually you’re not seeing exactly the same thing you saw in New York and Miami and Basel.
Charlotte Burns: It’s also the thing that became very efficient. I remember the very first art fair I went to years ago, was Frieze London when it was just called Frieze, because there was only one. It was kind of a delightful shambles. People wandering around smoking. I saw Jarvis Cocker; I nearly fainted. It was so exciting. It was just exciting and irreverent and a little bit wild.
Everything became much more polished and professional, which it needed to be, I suppose. But, you used to go to art fairs and really see different things and people would talk about experimenting. It was this moment when galleries didn’t really understand how art fairs worked either.
Now, it seems that everyone’s kind of cracked the code of how to make money at art fairs. You show this kind of work in Miami; this kind of work in Basel…
People have had more success now to understand how to make the fairs work for them. But, that also means that they’ve become a lot more predictable. And also, you see that curators, it’s more efficient for them to go to an art fair sometimes, meet all their peers, have meetings there, talk to artists, talk to philanthropists than slope off to some undiscovered corner of Hastings.
Sarah McCrory: I’m happy to slope off to an undiscovered corner of Hastings anytime.
Another conversation around that is something that I have an issue with slightly. I used to joke about it being Google curating. This is a conflict within programming: pressure on diversifying practices within your institution, from an authentic point of view, requires travel to visit new places, to do studio visits, to meet with artists. Because the alternative version is Google.
I’ve been in these awkward situations, particularly around in Scotland, there are funds every year for you to work with another Commonwealth country. So literally at the beginning of the year, Creative Scotland will say, “Okay, this year, it’s going to be Australia, South Africa and the Maritimes.” You propose an artist and then you get a large chunk of cash to make that show. But in theory, that would require you—
Charlotte Burns: Going to Australia.
Sarah McCrory: —going to those places or investigating on the worldwide web. There’s lots of kind of conflicts around how we work that need looking into.
Stuart Shave: Yeah, I completely agree. And just thinking about how the art world has really also taken to Instagram over the last few years, which seems a very empty, delusional platform in many ways, but you really can see how ideas are perpetrated by this, like how capitalist models really intimately affect people. They’re very intimately telling you free whatever algorithms, or what have you. These scenes are playing out; it’s a form of acting that’s propelling something forward that’s not necessarily about intrinsic value of an artwork.
Sarah McCrory: For me sometimes, the flip side of that, when I get close to as many people do the “full delete” of all social medias and the move to a burner phone. There’s those slight moments. But actually, I’ve learned so much from that kind of way of working anyway or following the right kind of voices.
Stuart Shave: Sure, yeah.
Sarah McCrory: But actually, even learning about positions that are not my own. I think there’s the group of people who are activists online-and whether that’s activists around climate change or whether it’s activists around body politics or queer rights-those things are really important, informative.
Charlotte Burns: You were one of more than 2,000 people to sign a letter denouncing sexual harassment and abuses of power in the art world. That went viral. That’s an example of social media.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah, it did. But it also had dark repercussions as well.
Charlotte Burns: In what way?
Sarah McCrory: I think when you start looking at something like that, which is driven by people who have been affected by really serious traumas, what you end up doing is—I mean, this is such a twanky way of discussing it—but it was a real learning curve for me in that some people were implicated and maybe their stories were used in a way that we hoped would benefit a cause. But actually, that somewhat backfired.
I’m being very ambiguous, but it’s because it involves people’s personal stories. It was a real lesson in power, how people use power and how ultimately it was successful in one way—but we were hoping that it would also carry on or make waves, I suppose. We just realized that you can’t really storm the battlements when you’ve got full-time job or a family.
That group of people, there was such desire to really change things and we’re really proud of the work that happened. There were discussion groups that came out of it and other bits of work. But overall, I think we really hoped to see big change. It was complicated, it was really complicated. And I’m being very ambiguous, but it was also kind of in some ways quite painful as an experience. I think we were all really, really proud of pulling that together. But, I also wish that some of—
Charlotte Burns: There are bigger impacts on that.
Sarah McCrory: There’d been a bigger impact, but also we got very close to a few people being really called out in the way that they actually should have, if not been prosecuted. And that fell through. And that was a lesson in how the world still works and how the patriarchy and how power is still controlling aspects of what we do, even in the art world, what we thought was our left-wing kind of supportive…
Charlotte Burns: I think that’s one of the interesting things about that #MeToo movement in museums and #MeToo movements in the art world. As soon as it happened, there was constant talk of, “Well, has it gone too far? We won’t be allowed to be ourselves anymore.” That this was all the kind of backstage chatter.
Whenever people have said to me, I just wonder if it’s gone too far. I said, well, where did it go? Like who got prosecuted, who lost their career, who lost their reputation, who really far from grace in an irrecoupable way.
Sarah McCrory: I’d like to see an example of one case where it went too far because I don’t believe there is one.
Charlotte Burns: Exactly.
Sarah McCrory: I’ve managed to get to this point of my working for 15 years in the art world and I don’t think I’ve grabbed anyone’s boobs yet.
Charlotte Burns: There’s time.
Sarah McCrory: There is time. The night is young.
But, I think that the conversation around, I’m not telling anyone anything they don’t know. Again, we have another world, which one of the things we talked about quite a lot in that group were about how younger members of staff or younger artists are very vulnerable in certain situations, whether it’s the half is less, but whether it’s the situation of the young galleries being asked to look after the artists being given the gallery credit card and being expected to stay out with them until 6am and fuel them with whatever they need versus…
All these positions that people are put into which make them very vulnerable. In time we might still pull something together around a code of conduct or around something that as a young person what you should or shouldn’t be expected to do, or asked to do.
One of the things that has changed is that it’s now easier—not easy, but easier—to step up and say, “I’m not comfortable with that.” Back to being at Goldsmiths and seeing how younger artists or students or younger people, yeah, I think they have a lot more confidence with expressing their position around what they’re willing to do and not to do.
Charlotte Burns: What you said about power really struck a chord with me because I remember thinking that at the time. There’s one particular #MeToo case that I have some understanding of. There are a lot of people who were scrambling to cover the story or downplay the story and all that sort of stuff. What’s quite interesting is they’re not bad people, actually. I think the logic was about the art. It was like, “Well, we need to protect the legacy of the art and the legacy of the work that this person has done.”
Sarah McCrory: Yeah.
Charlotte Burns: That’s always a thing. It’s like, well, this person did great work.
Or Harvey Weinstein recently in his own defense said, “Well, I was basically a feminist. I was promoting women and I don’t get any credit for that.” I think it’s really interesting because it’s so naive to suggest that someone has to walk around with a big flashing banner saying, “I’m evil, come and get me.”
The idea that everything is as black and white is that, again, speaks to our kind of naivety that yeah, of course people can have done incredible things for the art world, for the planet, for humanity—and still be monstrous to other people. That can all exist in one person and we should all, as adults in the art world, be able to cope with that, too, and separate those things out. One doesn’t necessarily-
Stuart Shave: You only need to look at the Catholic church to illustrate that.
Charlotte Burns: But also with the idea of with Weinstein, one thing I thought was really interesting is that his essential take was: “I’ve given a lot of money and I’ve done a lot of progressive things.” Basically: “There’s been some bad stuff happening. Sure. But, it should be considered on this slate.”
It got me thinking about taxation when I was like, well, if Weinstein didn’t have so much freedom to make his own choices about the kind of good that he supports, then maybe… If you don’t have any imperative to be a philanthropist and then you’re a philanthropist, then perhaps you get outsized-sense of satisfaction or moral upstanding value in your brain of what you’re giving to society. Whereas if there were decent tax laws, you’d just be taxed anyway and it wouldn’t necessarily feel to you like this gesture of benevolence
Is this still work going on with that? You just mentioned the code of conduct. Is there still?
Sarah McCrory: No. There’s not. It’s just so complicated and in a way, it’s almost embarrassing that there’s not. I don’t know if really this is something I want to go into because it implicates a lot of people who gave a lot of time, energy, effort. I was going to say love but love, I didn’t mean that. It was really-
Charlotte Burns: They gave off themselves.
Sarah McCrory: They gave off themselves and it became very complex. I still think it achieved quite a lot and I think it moved certain things along, but there are still people who work in museums and institutions who have allowed terrible things to happen. Exactly, as you said, on the back of allowing projects or funding to go ahead and I find it completely inexcusable.
Charlotte Burns: I think there will be ripple effects that are unpredictable.
Stuart, the Stagecoach sponsorship at the Turner Prize last year abruptly ended after a backlash over the bus company’s founder’s views of gay rights, Brian Souter, who had used his wealth to fund a campaign in 2000 to retain the anti-gay law, the section 28.
Sarah McCrory: Of all the things you can spend your money on.
Charlotte Burns: Well, he was unsuccessful, so it was also a waste of time. But then, Stagecoach was sponsoring the Turner Prize in 2019 and there was a backlash and you were one of the people who was very vocal about that, Stuart.
Stuart Shave: Yeah. I wrote a letter of objection about that because the context of the moment in which that happened is also that simultaneously in Birmingham, there was an outrage in the primary school system about an education policy for a very young primary school children four to five years old, which is called the “No Outsiders” education program, which basically contains a number of books that teaches children about tolerance towards disability, gender, race. It’s a very, very positive.
Basically, we’re talking about a children’s book about two male penguins that may have adopted a chick. It’s showing the reality of different types of families in this country.
I did object to this because what was happening in Birmingham was that there were mass protests outside of the school. Parents were pulling their children out of the school because they felt that these subjects of tolerance should not be taught.
I just felt that it was really important that the Turner Prize, which has been awarded to some great queer and gay artists in the past, should not be held hostage by someone like Brian Souter and Stagecoach. I felt very strongly that it brought the whole thing into disrepute. So, I wrote a letter which then got circulated on social media.
Charlotte Burns: Caused and had an effect. It’s no longer the sponsor of the Turner Prize.
Stuart Shave: Yeah. I was really pleased to see that and I’m really proud of the fact that the institutions involved did decide to not work with that sponsor and they saw that it was inappropriate.
Charlotte Burns: We sort of began the show in a way by talking about the fact that there’s this sense of trying the pressure to keep quiet, to keep your opinions to yourself, but you were outspoken about your opinion and had an effect with that. Do you feel like going into the next phase in time that you feel compelled to use your voice in that way?
Stuart Shave: Absolutely. I think that there are a number of issues. Obviously, Brexit was one of them. We’ve closed chapter one of Brexit now. It’s now happening, but the next chapter is really about what are the human rights, working people’s rights that are going to be affected by this and the country. I think that the art world has to be, we’ve talked about the climate crisis, the accountability there. There are lots of things moving forward that I’m really thinking about in terms of our accountability.
Sarah McCrory: Talking about the art world specifically, one of the biggest issues around how we work is that again is a completely unregulated industry. Many of the people who work in the art world, even at the very top came through art school. They didn’t come through business school. Some of the best commercial galleries or organizations are run by people who have no understanding of how to look after the people who work for them.
Charlotte Burns: How to be managers, yeah.
Sarah McCrory: How to be managers, how to consider even basic needs within their teams, how to understand that people need to be supported and things like pastoral care. We’re all struggling.
Hopefully I think a lot of the way we do work in business is coming from that place of being someone who’s been taught to question everything and been taught to think in a different way. But at the same time, thinking in a different way doesn’t always help with your spreadsheets, does it? That unregulated and often untrained part of the art world is very difficult.
You run a big gallery and you have a lot of employees, but when it comes to things like HR, how do you approach that?
Stuart Shave: Well, yeah, I don’t really have the head for it to be kind of master of all those trades within the company. That’s why you have a bigger gallery because you’ve got people in place that can do that.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah. It’s something you’ve considered. There are lots of big galleries who don’t have that.
Stuart Shave: Yeah, for sure.
Charlotte Burns: Stuart, tell me a little bit more about London right now. You’re expanding in Mayfair. Why Mayfair?
Stuart Shave: Well, I’m taking on this space in Mayfair. I love the area. It’s actually in St. James’s Mayfair, which has this very great history of art dealing in it. There’s been galleries like Colnaghi are there, Haslett’s there and then just around the corner there’s people in Thomas Dean, White Cube are there. I think the very original White Cube gallery was on Duke Street, St James’s. It’s just been an area that I’ve really loved the mixture of antiquarian bookstores or Chinese antiques.
Sarah McCrory: —Is it so you can get your biscuits from Fortnums? Was that it?
Stuart Shave: Yes. It’s that too. It just felt that that was a context to put Modern Art and depart our program within that context. This new space is not a big space. It’s nothing like the two other galleries we have in the East End. It’s a much more contained gallery.
It was also coming from a desire to make an interest really, based on discussions with my artists, of what it would be like to make some smaller shows as well as the larger scale shows that we do.
Charlotte Burns: How much of it is about foot traffic too? Because obviously, if I come in from New York for three days, I don’t get time to go outside of the center of London. Much as I’d love to, it just doesn’t happen. It’s such a big city to get around.
Stuart Shave: Certainly, we’ve found in East End that it is more difficult to get clients over, but it really depends on the show that you have on. I think if you have a show that everyone, you’ll see the great and the good will be coming over there and taking a look at it.
It’s really about just that I want to work in Central London, but we’re lucky enough to work with some great collectors who will really go anywhere to find contemporary art and look at contemporary art.
Sarah McCrory: It’s always a sign of collectors’ metal, isn’t it? We have Tony Cokes up at the moment and obviously I’m biased, but it is a great exhibition and really timely. The people we see coming through the gallery, they might only have a day in London but they’ve come down to New Cross to see it. All of the people who really give a shit make it.
Charlotte Burns: There was a moment around the time of the YBAs when East London was the coolest thing since sliced bread juice. Is it still retaining that crown? Do you think it’s moving on slightly?
Stuart Shave: I think there are great, fantastic colleagues of galleries in the East End and the West End. I think it’s really like some people are working in the East End because economically it’s slightly easier.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Stuart Shave: There are some amazing galleries there and there’s no shortage of people that do make it out there.
Sarah McCrory: People always want to talk about new area for art. That that conversation never ends, but it shifts around and moves. There’s an amazing group at the moment of artist run spaces opening and running around Bermondsey and around the Walworth road and into New Cross. They’re just doing amazing things. They’re mostly in studio blocks, but places like Jupiter Ward and these very small but very active spaces. Peckham had its moment and then that shifted with the regeneration of Peckham. A lot of those spaces had to move on.
Charlotte Burns: That’s the story of art, isn’t it? Artist have always moved to where the rents are cheap and then the areas become desirable and then they’ve had to move out again.
Sarah McCrory: Then different artists move back in. It’s an ongoing story. Stuart and I have spoken about this at length, but we both still, despite my mithering around the current political climate, we’re both still really excited about London. I think it’s the best place in the world. There’s this always things shifting and changing. It’s just always really dynamic and amazing and fun and sometimes terrible, but in a good way. It’s sort of alive.
Stuart Shave: Yeah. I mean if you look at the museums that we have, many of which are led by women, Maria Balshaw at Tate Modern, Iwona Blazwick at the Whitechapel, what Sarah is doing at Goldsmiths, Margot Heller at South London gallery. There’s really, in terms of museums and institutions, it’s kind of of unbeatable really.
Sarah McCrory: Yeah. There’s also that great level that we’re part of; this level that I find sometimes missing in places like New York specifically, but other big centers are smaller-scale organizations that are part-government-funded and again doing what we’re doing. But, those spaces like Camden Gasworks, Chisenhall, us, ICA even; that kind of really strong middle ground of places to see really ambitious projects. People who really care about how they work with artists.
Sarah McCrory: I think the recent election and the outcome was a bit of a blow and maybe what we shouldn’t take from that is this idea of the futility of how much so many people we know put in so much effort around trying to make or trying to have an outcome that was unsuccessful in the end. Actually, what it feels like it’s done is really ignite a lot of people to think how can we use our voice and we should all be part of that. People working in the cultural world should be part of that. But the other side of that, of course, is, as Stuart said, around accountability and openness, but also how we take that forward in what we do.
I run an art gallery and after the election, I really felt fired up to leave it all and join politics. You have those moments where you think what is this? What is my contribution? Actually, we should be doing that through the artists we show, through the work. In our case, through our education program, through looking at who we work with in Lewisham. There’s disadvantaged groups who no longer have access to art and culture because of the Tory cuts in schools. We play a very small role in that, but we can do something.
Through the artists we choose, through what we do and just the ethos of your institution or your gallery, which at times does feel like a small gesture but actually, in the case of Stuart signing that letter and writing that letter about Stagecoach, small gestures can have huge impact.
Charlotte Burns: And ripple effects too.
Sarah McCrory: Ripple effects, yeah. The butterfly wing.
Charlotte Burns: Stuart, you’re opening your space. When are you opening that exactly?
Stuart Shave: The new space that’s going to open in March, all being good.
Charlotte Burns: And what’s the opening show?
Stuart Shave: It’s a show by Martha Jungwirth, who is an Austrian painter.
Charlotte Burns: Oh, you had her work in Miami.
Stuart Shave: Yes, that’s right. Yeah. Martha’s very interesting artist who’s been working for about five decades with really no venue.
Charlotte Burns: Really interesting artist, I think.
Stuart Shave: But, she’s enjoying a huge success suddenly. She felt very much the natural choice to open the space with.
Charlotte Burns: I think that’s really interesting too because it brings us back to where we started, which is this idea of artists laboring for years undiscovered. There are really fantastic artists working in really interesting new ways of thinking about things, old things, in new ways. That support is vital for an artist like Martha to have that literally life changing show.
Stuart Shave: Yeah, I think so. Across the board, I think we’re looking at a lot of galleries that are working with undiscovered senior artists. We did a show this year with Lois Dodd, which is the first time she’d ever shown—at 92, the first time she’d ever shown outside of America. It was one of the most popular shows we’ve ever done. I’m definitely looking into those very senior artists.
Charlotte Burns: The artist, Martha Rosler said that to us during the study. We said, what does it take to be successful as a woman artist? And she said, “Well, you either have to live them all or die.” Maybe one day, we’ll start getting them young.
Sarah McCrory: Our next exhibition is called “Transparent Things” and it’s based on the first chapter of the Nabokov novel of the same name. That is a group exhibition opening alongside a young artist—we do a project called “Episodes” where we do three shows a year with an artist who’s maybe less than ten years out of art college. The next one is a painter called Sophie Barber who’s based in Saint Leonards-on-Sea. Those were our next exhibitions.
Charlotte Burns: Thanks both so much.
Sarah McCrory: Thank you.
Charlotte Burns: I appreciate it.
Stuart Shave: Thank you.