It’s not just about Sellingby Sean O'Toole / 01.10.2009
Art galleries come and go. Remember Gallery 101? Nope. What about the Lidchi Gallery? Lawrence Adler Gallery? Egon Guenther Gallery? Yes, no? How about the Everard Read Contemporary? Warren Siebrits Modern and Contemporary? The Premises? Bell-Roberts Gallery? All history.
Not that it is all smog and gloom in the local art scene at the moment. For every gallery that has closed recently, a new one has emerged, each confidently aiming to fill a perceived vacuum. One of these, YOUNGBLACKMAN, a new venue established by artist Ed Young and writer Matthew Blackman at 69 Roeland Street in Cape Town, has committed itself to the voguish business model of “gross capital loss”.
More ambitiously, Cape Town’s Whatiftheworld Gallery is opening a Joburg satellite, in Braamfontein, while the Goodman Gallery have already opened an annex in the new Arts on Main development in Joburg’s CBD, so too Loop Street’s i-Art Gallery, which has a baby space in Cape Town’s Wembley Square. Both the latter venues have been christened as project spaces.
Marianne Halter and Mario Marchisella. The conductor’s fear of the soloist – ten small pieces for violin. (2008) Video stills from a 3-channel video installation.
Last I checked, which was a few years ago, in an underground parking garage in downtown Joburg no less, the implications of owning a project space were being demonstrated by a group of long-distance runners tracking back and forth in a teeny room decorated with fenders and painted lines. The artist behind this project was painter Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, the gallery the brainchild of Simon Gush. Similarly based on a zero sum gain business model as YOUNGBLACKMAN, it didn’t however take all that long before Gush’s Parking Gallery went the way of Rory Palmer’s Dirt Contemporary, the now defunct Kloof Street venue that is credited as the birthplace of Avant Car Guard.
There is, of course, nothing inherently wrong in these disappearing acts. Where some galleries are founded on five year business plans, practice good corporate governance and sweat about not achieving double-digit net profit, others – typically artist-run project spaces – seek to make possible ideas and actions that don’t require a red dot to vindicate their existence. Typically they’re not around for long, which is not a barometer of their importance. Project spaces, at least those that imaginatively poke at the boundaries of art’s possibilities, serve a vital function. Without them, the art landscape is bereft, the gallery scene reduced to an elegant product showroom.
Talking of product. When I caught up with Jonathan Garman in his new Woodstock venue, opposite Michael Stevenson on Sir Lowry Road, he sheepishly admitted that in the past four years of Blank Projects’ existence he has invoiced about R10,000 in art sales. That’s roughly one eighth the price of a Pieter Hugo photograph across the road. When I recently told a friend I was contemplating buying a work on the final show at Garman’s old Bo-Kaap venue, he begged me to buy it just to see the invoice number. “It would have probably been 001, laughed Garman, standing in the empty room that will serve as the main exhibition in Woodstock.
Trained as a sculptor, Garman has an interesting background in the big mess about some in the art world like to refer to as experimental practice. For ten years he lived in Berlin, along the way meeting his current wife and co-founding an experimental evening devoted to art, music and beer, known as Kunst + Technik. A committed Arsenal fan, Garman may not look much like coach Arsène Wenger but he does share with the likeable Frenchman an interest in nurturing young talent. In 2006 alone Blank Projects showcased work by, amongst others, Cameron Platter, Ed Young, Gabi Ngcobo, Khwezi Gule, Adrienne van Eeden and Pierre Fouché, the latter currently Garman’s business partner in this not for profit business. My personal highlight was James Webb’s Morse code light installation. It was genius.
But enough of this canary singing: Blank Projects open their new Woodstock venue tonight at 113-115 Sir Lowry Raod. There is free Grolsch. Interesting art too.