A Trans – Atlantic Interview

August 19th, 2013 § 0 comments

Paula Silva interviews former boss Joao Correia

London / Bogota, November 20th 2010

Joao talks about his activities in the last decade: his arrival in London, his frustration with the lack of Latin American art in the capital, his response with the set up of Tambo Gallery in 2003, the preparations to re-launch his gallery in 2012 and all what happened in between.

1. When you set up Tambo, back in 2003, what motivated you to move your ambitions to a gallery physical space rather than to work as a marchand?

I’ve always looked up to art brokerage practices. Low overheads, low staff, efficient IT, minimum stock, high-level networking. Simple formula. However, when you decide to break through and pioneer a market for a little known type of art, the stock, the promotion, the education, the events and most importantly a window to the world becomes critical. Realization that I wanted a gallery came with that insight.

2. Why choose the most expensive street in London (Regent Street)?

It allowed me to maximise the gallery benefits described above.

3. How did you manage to represent Carlos Cruz – Diez and Jesús Soto? You were 26 and they were both well in their 80s!

I had a successful working relationship with Colombian figurative artist Ramiro Arango. Ramiro knew Cruz-Diez and I wanted a big name to launch the gallery with, to overtly get a lift on his reputation. I called Carlos up and shared my vision with him. He bought into it, and introduced me to Soto and to many other great artists. Banking on the good work with them I could leverage access to the masters on the younger generation and “the rest is history”.

4. What informed the selection of artists you chose to work with in Tambo?

No particular program was followed. Tambo, believe it or not, was a bit of a testing bed. I had no idea of what would work in London and what wouldn’t so just followed my intuition as well as the convenience in terms of geographical proximity with the artists studios and good personal rapport with them.

5. Who were your groupies, your supporters or investors for that Project?

I had a few smart business people who got on my side appreciating that our project had a strong USP (unique selling point) that increased its chances of being a success. I had also some scholars, and sponsors that came basically from cold calling and ended up becoming good friends. There were also the usual enthusiasts of Latin American Culture and my English girlfriend at the time Ally, who was as supportive as a great woman can be. In my first exhibition promotion was poor and she was the only one to turn up.

6. After closing Tambo, what did you spend the last 5 years of your life doing?

Upon closing Tambo I was aware that the success we had was mainly owed to my raw hungry immigrant type of enthusiasm. I did lack basic business skills and was very conscious of that. Having managed a family business in Brazil had nothing to do with pioneering a new enterprise in a centre like London. In the last 5 years I’ve been acquiring these basic business skills that will hopefully allow me to come back and be a real player.

7. How was that different or similar to what you did when you had Tambo?

It was completely different. I believe in learning by doing, and also was keen to get involved in experiences outside the art world. I did a course in the history of the art market at Sothebys with the great Godfrey Barker, but also ventured into marketing, online marketing, sales, and even decided to embrace a real estate project I bumped into. Now I am starting to miss the arts but am grateful for this season of experiences out of it. I have also been soul searching and lost for a while.

8. What propelled you to want to re-open a space?

Rarely I say that openly, but a strong reason why I was out of the arts is for not knowing what to do next. Tambo was right at the time, but I don’t think it would have been needed now. London has 100s of galleries there is no point creating another one for the sake of it. So I have been asking myself, what does London need that I am eventually well equipped to provide? I think I have been finding the answer and for the same reasons mentioned above, my new project needs a window.

9. How has your thinking, liking and understanding of art changed since Tambo?

My art thoughts until that time were mainly a consequence of the environment I had been born in. Figurative art, partly influenced by the School of Paris, part by the Semana de Arte Moderna of 1922 (Sao Paulo). I had not had the time to let my European experiences sink in and my friendships in the art world were too new. I have since been strongly influenced by my great friend Jesse Jacobson who I see as one of the world’s experts in Abstract Expressionism. I have also been put in a new track of research and interest in a very different vein: street art, by my friend Eduardo Seretta, one of the owners of Choque Cultural Gallery in Sao Paulo. Not to mention other individuals and events that had an impact on me in terms of my appreciation for contemporary performance and its artistic genealogy.

10. What motivated that change in your vision?

The desire to expand my horizons and participate in the contemporary dialogue, now that I had had my Tambo experience with established artists and was confident of my ability to make things happen in London. Also, desire to switch my art thinking back on, after a handful of years watching it as a pure spectator.

11. How is working with these graffiti, street and performance artists different from working with people of the stature of Cruz – Diez
or Soto?

They bring a different type of beauty to the world: raw creative energy, often anti establishment, uninterested in the champagne life style typical of the art world. Their names won’t build an audience but their behaviours and ideas will. Their appeal to the press doesn’t come from their place in history, but from the polemic their work generates. I could go on and on. Very different worlds, I enjoy to play in both.

12. In terms of building a market and selling their work?

Thinking about a market for graffiti art is almost a contradiction. Graffiti artists develop their practice in the public space without necessarily thinking about exhibiting in a gallery or museum, they use pseudonyms as opposed to their real names – which all other artists will always use as an advantage in the market – and a great majority of them actually challenge the market itself. However, there has been an increasing interest in street art since Basquiat teamed up with Leo Castelli, which we can see now in Banksy as the cornerstone of that new interest. So, there are essential and fundamental differences between working with an artist whose intention is to exhibit and sell with a gallery than working with an artist who develops their work thinking about displaying a politically engaged message in public space.

13. In terms of media attention?

I think there is something very newsworthy about the fact that graffiti and street art have gained recognition. Graffiti has been around since the Romans and it gained major political relevance during the events of May 1968 in Paris. It was then that it became an important component of artistic practice; but it wasn’t until Basquiat and Keith Harring became Warhol’s protégés that it became part of the art market. What is interesting now is that contemporary graffiti artists are closer to May 68 in their political thinking but they have developed a very strong visual language to reinforce the political message. So, in a way, what we are seeing now is the brotherhood between punk politics and what worked very brilliantly for Basquiat and Harring in the art market: it’s about visually stunning political statements.

14. How do you analyse the potential of graffiti and street art within the relevant currents of contemporary art?

There has recently been a lot of critique of relational aesthetics, but graffiti art has repeatedly had a presence in relational exhibitions and events. If you think of the genealogy of both, Situationist International is at the roots of both relational aesthetics and graffiti art. But the association isn’t gratuitous; and the major element that links these two currents together is the demand for viewer response. The other important aspect of graffiti art has to do with its site specificity. Ever since high art left the gallery space in the 70s with land art and then with site-specific practice, the blurring between open and closed space and between private and public space has been a major point of discussion for theorists. There is a very crucial site specificity for graffiti art; one that can be seen in the difference between the artistic practice of a city like London and the one coming from cities like Sao Paulo, Barcelona or Los Angeles. They all refer to very different political engagements.

15. How would you build a market for that kind of artwork?

The first market for this kind of artistic practice, ironically, lies outside the art market. It resides more in non – commercial institutions, the ones that can actually put an artist in the map. Because this kind of art is produced outside commercial interests, the movement from the street to the art gallery has traditionally been mediated by non – commercial spaces. But mostly, this mediation has been put forward by very contemporary, analytic and critical spaces that take risks with the shows they put together. This doesn’t imply that there can’t be a commercial market for this kind of artwork. Of course there is! But it’s important that people live the experience of this kind of art before they actually decide to purchase. This is an artistic practice that calls its viewers very strongly to engagement, so it will be people who feel this experience to their cores the ones who will be able to live with the pieces every day.

Paula Silva is a freelance art writer and curator. She manages the Arts Programme for the British Council in Colombia, and their Creative Economy Programme for Latin America and the Caribbean. She is a speaker to audiences of young creative entrepreneurs on how to potentialize the Latin American creative industries.
Paula has a literature and art history degree (honours) from Universidad de Los Andes, an MA in Visual Culture from Goldsmiths University. She was also associate professor of contemporary art theory at Universidad de Bogota Jorge Tadeo Lozano and was then the dean (A) of its fine arts department. She’s been twice the finalist of the National Art Criticism award.

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