Michael Xuereb: Gallery Talks

Alexander Dellal knows what he’s doing.

Imagine you wake up tomorrow and you’ve been left with a whole building in a prime prime location in London – what would you do with it? Would you turn it into a gallery? Well that’s what Alexander Dellal did 4 years ago.

‘20 Hoxton Square’ (which must have baffled postmen many a times) is situated at 20 Hoxton Square. I met Alexander in his pad which is right above the gallery.

Who does the curating for ‘20 Hoxton Square’?

I have done some curating and I also worked with other curators. For me I prefer collaborative things. Here we have from interns to different people giving their input towards our shows. It’s quite an organic process in that sense, a sort of group activity. Obviously, there are also times that we have specific curators that we invite to curate a show.

While researching previous interviews I only found people interviewing you about the starting phase, the launch of 20 Hoxton Sq. Now that you’re past that part… how’s it going?

It’s going well! I look at of the people who started around the same time we did, and a lot of them are gone now. As we all know, the economic climate hasn’t been great these past few years. It’s an uphill battle. Working with emerging artists has an element of risk, has an element of cost…. Our whole idea is to give up-and-coming artists a first class platform, when a lot of the time they’re not necessarily ready for it. It’s a really quick way to find an artist’s potential. This can be brutish sometimes, but that’s our approach.

Some artists gain more distance then others, and from there we decide who we are going to focus more on. You’ve caught us at a very funny time, because in the last few weeks we took some drastic decisions. One of them is that we are going to be using more outside spaces.

Outside spaces as in outdoor projects or just other buildings?

Just any other spaces. I’ve got a property in Berlin that we used for artistic projects up until now and I have an offer from a group in Brazil to do a few things there. And I also spend a lot of time in France and the States. These days, to have the best effect, you need to be a bit more international. What I’ve noticed, in my short life in the art world, is that as soon as artists started being represented in multiple countries – with different people taking care of different geographical regions, there are now other things that are used to gain a global reach. Weather it’s the fairs or the internet, now artists and galleries from Athens or Paris do not need to have a permanent presence in every major city. For example Gagosian pretty much has a space in every city on the planet, but young galleries also have quite a distant reach and this is through the fairs, the internet and by doing projects outside their gallery.

We try to stay true to our community here at Hoxton, I wouldn’t like a shopfront in Mayfair, for example. But having one space – I’m starting to find restricting. As great as a space 20 is, it doesn’t suit all the projects we want to do.

The Bruce High Quality Foundation


Is it restricting because you’re not able to exhibit certain work, or restricting because you’re not able to reach certain people?

It is a little of both actually. Because Hoxton is slightly out of the way, and many collectors are based in West London. We try to entice people by having multiple things happening at the same time, there’s ‘First Thursdays’ [a number of London galleries open to the public on each first Thursday of every month] and there’s our bimonthly newspaper, which gives people more reason to come visit. But there are certain projects that are compromised if exhibited here – you can’t shove something into a shape that doesn’t fit.

We take it day by day here, everything happens naturally. I’ve always simultaneously done other projects. I work in digital publishing as well, and I also work in property – which is how the 20 gallery space became accessible to me. I always wanted to keep this project very clean, integral and close to heart. We are happy to make mistakes. We are not happy to make the same mistake twice, but making mistakes is a part of growth. To be honest, some of the best things we’ve done have came from the worst things we’ve done.

We were lucky to start our gallery when we were very young, because I felt we had a bit of slack. The expectation wasn’t massive to begin with. We did mistakes, but if you’re going to wimp out and to play it safe – the art world isn’t the place to be.

Next question. What do you think long-established gallery owners, who have been around for 20-30 years, think about you?

What they think about me… hmmm

maybe even some neighbors…

Our obvious neighbor is White Cube. They are usually supportive. Funny enough, big galleries are set up like a kind of institution, so you don’t really get to know much personalities within it. I don’t know what ‘White Cube as an institution’ things of 20 Hoxton Square… I’m not quite sure. There’s definitely no threat. If anything they’ve been very encouraging. Jay Jopling [owner of White Cube] has been to a lot of our exhibitions. I imagine there is more of what you are mentioning from medium sized galleries, who have been around longer then us, maybe have less space then us – which is an odd situation, and I guess for them it must be a little more awkward.

…and there’s the age factor obviously. [Alexander is 27]

Yes but I think the age factor isn’t that relevant. If I was 40, I think it could have been more of an issue and it would feel a little more competitive. I’m not very competitive in this. There are other places to be competitive and it is ridiculous to be competitive in art. This is not sports. I think every gallery and artist should stand on their own and be judged from different perspectives. I don’t feel any level of competition, and if it’s there, I don’t really pay attention to it.

We love doing collaborations. We worked with the University of the Arts, with charities, with established artists, established galleries… Especially at the beginning, with the space we have, and because of my involvement in property, it made us look bigger then we were. This drove us to get there quicker, or try to get there quicker.

Jaap de Vries


OK. The artwork you represent are obviously works you admire. Do you ever stop and say to yourself: “I wish I’m the artist creating these wonderful pieces!”

Everyday. I’m a frustrated artist and this project was born out of me wanting to show my own work. I do feel there is an artistic element from my side. [said modestly] I feel like a creative director in some way. In the creative industry there are a lot of characters and people don’t work in conventional ways. At the same time, I have to also look logistically. The people that we deal with, as talented as they are, it’s very easy to miscommunicate their actions and opinions. I play a mediator type role and working with young artists makes it a bit easier, because they are usually more open to collaboration. When you take them from a small space to something larger, like this, they look to you for approval and they look to you for my opinion. Sometimes you get characters that are confident and say “I don’t need your help. I know exactly what I want. Me and my friend will install the show. Just show up for the opening.” And from my side I trust them to do that. While others work in different way. I had artists coming in with spreadsheets, I had others with emotional confusion – all sorts of characters! And this is why it’s so important for us to understand our artists. Some of them come in not even knowing what a gallery is supposed to do! We tell our artists that we are here to help, but then you get artists saying ‘You didn’t do this for me, you didn’t do that…‘ and I say ‘I’m not your mother!’ Our responsibilities have limits!

Tell us one thing a gallery director does that nobody knows they do.

Ohh, so something I do that no one knows I do… I don’t know how secretive I am…

…not secretive, something that’s unappreciated or something that you did, but never expected to do as as ‘the boss’.

All right. One of our artists, who’s a photographer, she takes old photos of people as a child and she’d recreate the exact photo when they are older. I assisted her on that shoot, which is something you wouldn’t expect the gallerist to be assisting one of the artists. [The artist is Clarisse d'Arcimoles.You can see some of her work at the Saatchi Gallery till the 17th of April 2011]

Last question, this one is more generic. Most of our readers are unrepresented artists, and unfortunately most of them will never be picked up by a gallery. Do you have any words of encouragement for these artists?

Ambition is a very important thing. We worked with artists that had called us more then fifty times. We try to be sensitive to these artists. We try to see everybody’s work, but as you become busier and busier it becomes impossible. Be persistent. Just like you would to find a girlfriend or a boyfriend. Show your dedication because the worry of any gallerist is that after they put time and energy to promote an artist, they turn around and say ‘I want to be a lawyer now.’ I’ve spoken to a lot of artists. I ask them ‘Which point do you want to reach, at what age and when will you decide if this is working for you or not?’ I’ve heard some outrages answers! They say ‘By 25 if I don’t have a show with a major gallery, I’m not doing this anymore.’

These days, you see a lot of young artists, especially British artists, who have become influenced by the commercial medium and Damien Hirst. Once you have your foot in the door with a gallery, you have to produce work! We had artists who refused to. They keep going to these arty social areas to meet people and constantly self promote and try to sell out of their studio. That’s where you start to find problems. Once you have a relation with a gallery, you need to have a good thorough conversation of who is doing what and and what is expected from each party. Be bold, but once you’re there you cannot carry on as before. And the worst thing to do is try to spin someone off another person, because this will breath a scenario where people aren’t happy to work with you anymore.

Just be nice.

Exactly. Because at the end of the day, artists and galleries need to collaboration.

* * *

The last bit Alexander talked about got me thinking. Is it possible for gallerists to understand the struggles of artists that only dream of having their work exhibited? And how many of these artists do gallerists actually interact with? I’m asking this because I asked Alexander to comment about unrepresented artists and we got more about artists who have just started being represented. If you are an artist and you reach the inner circle of mingling with gallery people, chances are you’re an exhibiting artist. But what about the other artists? Obviously the ratio between artists and gallerists is a million to one, and if I’m right in saying there’s a barrier of understanding between the two – it’s definitely not the gallery people’s fault. What do you think artists?

Alexander is very friendly. Meeting him was a pleasure and our chat was very easygoing. As I was leaving he told me that it didn’t feel like an interview – to which I agree.

Alexander Dellal must be the youngest gallery owner I ever talked to, definitely the youngest I ever interviewed. He is focused, unspoiled and although he doesn’t seem to have a strategically planned direction for his gallery’s future, he has a well developed ‘language’ that he uses and continue to use to take action and make decisions on whatever circumstances the future brings – which is even better than having a plan.

He is also… tech savvy. Which brings me to the last thing we talked about.

Like today’s artists, Alexander is using multiple mediums to exhibit art. He recently started a digital publishing company which produces a fully multi-media application for the iPad called ‘POST’. Much of the content is about art, culture, music and fashion. As I mentioned Rupert Murdoch’s ‘The Daily’, out came the iPad and a guarantee that this was better! I have to say, it was something I’ve never seen before.

There’s no need to go on about it here – it’s on iTunes. If you have an iPad you should have a look at it for yourself. I assure you the app logo (or whatever it’s called) will be the sleekest looking thing on your iPad’s desktop! I fell in love with that font the P-O-S-T is written in. What is that typeface Alex? Anybody knows?

Upcoming shows for 20 Hoxton Square include:

Alex Hoda. Type One Errors. New work in Alexander Dellal’s project space in Mitte, Berlin. 29 April – 7 May 2011 [Hoda also has work at the Saatchi Gallery till the 17th of April 2011]

Dustin Yellin. Osiris On The Table. New York artist. First UK solo show. In collaboration with Vito Schnabel. 18 February – 12 March 2011

Check website for other upcoming exhibitions.

www.20hoxtonsquare.com

About the author

Michael Xuereb
Michael Xuereb is a conceptual artist and writer. He is originally from Malta and now based in London. http://www.michaelxuereb.com

7 Comments

  1. mite says:

    Me piace molto !!!Bravooooooooooo

    Reply
  2. Laura Hart says:

    So glad you asked the question about unrepresented artists and gallery attitude to aspiring exhibitors. I was a little dismayed to read that there are young British artists out there who will give up if they haven’t made it by 25. I guess that is the eternal hubris of the young! I’ve been an artist in myriad forms and disciplines since I was a child; my ‘galleries’ have been equally diverse in form and function. But, if I’m honest, I am still so hypercritical of my own offspring that I find it monumentally difficult to be persistent when it comes to approaching galleries. Does it flavour the curator’s taste? Do I have the right pedigree? Will I be hurried out the door by a fractious assistant? Is anyone actually listening if I call the gallery? How do I show my work if it needs a fork lift to get it through the door?

    I think this is an endemic problem with many artists – young and old. Some of us actually find it hard to leap up and down and wave our arms in the air to get noticed. A bottle of Scotch and a few lewd remarks might work for Martin Creed, but for most of us it would be ‘Light’s off’ and there’s the door!

    Reply
    • Bang says:

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  3. @mite: grazie mille!

    @Laura: Yes I was equally shocked by the comment about the 25 year old artists giving up. I read my interview again just now and I realised that I could have came across as saying that all artist’s goal should be to be represented and exhibited by galleries… which is really not my opinion. Some artists couldn’t care less, and goodluck to them. Having said this, I think that all artists should encourage their art being scrutinized by the public. We shouldn’t be reluctant or afraid to show what we do, even when we’re not 100% certain about it. Thanks for the comment.

    Reply
  4. Matthew Benington says:

    Hello Bruce and Alexander, Myself and some of the other RCA students have a show at the Cafe Gallery Projects Space in Suffolk next friday where i will be displaying some new large scale prints made on a recent residency in Alberta. It would be great to have a drink and get some feedback, as you say Michael this is absolutely crucial to artists and the erosion of that unpleasant stereotype of the melodramatic artist, in the dark, nourishing the ego, expecting to one day be discovered and revered. Having grown up with a father who is a curator and know all to well how difficult some artists can be, biting the hand that feeds etc. Real pleasure reading this in my jetlagged state, congratulations on the ongoing success of 20 Hoxton Square.Will definately visit soon.

    Best

    Matthew

    Reply
  5. Carlo Spinola says:

    Key issue of your interview to Alexander Dellal is the dedication of the artist. For the gallerist is working and investing, so has to look at the returns.

    But what if talent and inspiration comes and goes with no respect for business’ expectations ? Is there a magic formula to phase creativity and business ? Or is it just a matter of discipline to fulfil most of our commitments ?

    Reply
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