Curating photography - Susan Bright / 10 March
Haley Morris-Cafeiro: 'No-one would ever buy a picture with a fat person in it'
On meeting her partner, Gigi Giannuzzi
I wondered why he was always shouting. I didn't understand that this was the Italian way of doing things.
On starting TJ Boulting Gallery.
Then Gigi was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and six months later he died. So the whole situation was traumatic and unstable.
On the space
A lot about what a gallery is is the space. The space is where everything comes together for me. It's not a characterless white cube. I'm always proud to offer them the opportunity to use this beautiful space to do what they want to do. Every single show is totally different.
On art and commerce
Photography is not just about printing and framing - it can be much more of that. And that can be very expensive. Photography is very expensive and for a gallery, there is the question of what happens if you can't sell the work. I have to think in two ways - commercially in terms of how do I sell. And from a creative perspective. How do I keep it fresh, How do I make it interesting without going to far. It doesn't always need to be overdressed. You don't always have to present work in radical ways.
On wallpaper and black paint
Don't use wallpaper. It's very messy! You'll need to sand the walls to get it off.
Painting a wall is a really good way to completely transform a space.
Do not paint the walls black - it will take three times as long to paint it white again.
On editioning and sizes
How large do you show it. How many editions do you have? Most of the artists I work with don't know. They haven't got a clue about sizes, editions, and pricing. It's a grey area. It's not an exact science.
Juno is an exception. She came to me with two sizes - 60 x40, and 40 x 25, both in editions in 5. With two artist's proofs. The artist's proofs are out of the edition, but they can still be sold, and if the edition is sold out they can be quite desirable.
On Juno Calypso
You don't need to dress her work up. You don't need loads of ways of presenting because the images are so strong - you just need the images in a white box frame on a white wall.
A big part of what the gallery does is based in the gallery, but art fairs are a very big part of what the gallery does. You meet collectors, you show work, you meet people, you get seen.
The thing about fairs is they are very expensive to do. We showed Juno Calypso in 2016 in the discovery section, in a cupboard. But it was a really good experience. We sold a lot of her Dream in Green which is one of her most iconic images. Later that year we did Unseen which is very different to Photo London - Photo London is established galleries, Unseen has an emphasis on new, fresh things. Art Fairs are curated. You have to apply to get in - that's not cheap (Paris Photo costs 300-400 euros just to apply)
I did a solo booth with Juno, And it's abroad so you have to do the shipping, the accommodation, the transport. You have to think how can I make this work financially. For Unseen, I'm very good at driving a van - so I took my own work and work from other London galleries. And because you're travelling you need to think about materials - you don't use glass because it's heavier and might break, so you use perspex - which is more reflective. You always have to think of how much you spend on top of the thousands of pounds you have spent just on getting there.
Unseen get very involved with what you are showing. Photo London don't. So when I wanted to show commercially successful work like Juno and Maisie at Unseen, they said no, you showed this at Photo London. And that grated with me, because when we got there it's not like they had a line of collectors there. That's where the energy should go, into bringing people to the fair. I didn't lose money there, but it was close. You can't consistently keep on going back to a fair when you are not making money.
So I went away and I decided to show artists who were more risky - I showed Benedicte Kurzen and Haley Morris-Cafeiro. We went through the images and editions - and to my regret we did an edition of 2 for the larger size, and an edition of 7 for a smaller size. Nobody wanted this blue man in a small size, they wanted him big, and he sold out. But you live by the rules you die by the rules. You can't change the edition
On finding artists
People often ask how do you meet your artists? I followed Maisie Cousins on Instagram and I really liked her work - this curator came up to me and said I'd really like to curate this show with this artist. And it turned out the artist was Maisie. She'd shown everything online, but she was really interested in showing things in print, on a huge scale (2.5 m). My first thought was that sounds exciting. The second thought was that sounds really expensive.
So I got in touch with a company that makes promotional material - and they made this huge image, a digital print on foamex. Then the question is, is this something I can sell? So we made three of these massive prints, mixed with framed prints on hahnemule baryta or pearl. So her work is available in sizes from A0 to A5, each size in an edition of 5.
Most of the artists haven't shown their work before. One thing I do is demyth the idea of editioning and sizes - there is no hard rule. Smaller sizes often work better with small editions. And this ties into the position of photography in the art world - how do you get collectors in the wider art world. People have faith in painting, but as soon as you get into editions, and different sizes, you get this distrust setting in. So once the edition and sizes are set, that's it. There is no changing because we are still trying to convince people that photographic work is art work, and is as original as it can be. this is a constant thing as well - finding photography's position in the art world.
Seeing one of Juno Calypso's artist's proofs sell for £11,000 at autcion was a huge learning curve.
It's very difficult to get press. The mainstream press only want to do institutional reviews, but it is difficult to gauge the impact that good press can give you, often from unexpected sources. So when Time out gave us a five star review in 2018 for another Juno Calypso show (with an underground garden) I completely underestimated what a five star review in Time Out could do. People were queuing in the morning before we opened to get in. It was really exciting, it was groundbreaking. But did we sell anything? And yes we did.
At Photo London, even though we had the smallest booth in the fair, we had the most talked about booth because of how we showed. We need to make these decisions - stuff that's going to sell, stuff that will get people attention. If you don't do that, people will walk back, You have to draw them in. You have to be realistic about establishing what an artist is.
On the long view
I'd been here five years and they doubled the rent. You can't take a chance on everything because you have to pay that rent. But sometimes you get collectors who don't buy work because they think it will look good on a wall, but because they think it is really important. That is what happened with Haley Morris-Cafeiro. People bought her work because they thought it really mattered.
It's very bold, it's very out there, it's very difficult to sell because most people don't want this on kind of work on their walls. So I take her to Unseen, everybody is talking about her, people are crying, and having an emotional response to her work. Did I sell? Maybe one. Did I mind? Not really, becasue in the long term she'll be in the Tate, I have complete confidence in her work.
There is a picture by Haley from the Bully Pulpit called 'No one would ever buy a photo with a fat person in it'. A French gallerist came to me and actually said those exact words to me which is a great irony because it did sell.
It's a very holistic thing being a gallerist. Sometimes you just don't know what is going to sell and what isn't.