everything talks to Adam Reynolds

Terry SmithImage 1
Image 1:
Terry Smith
Site Unseen
Adam Gallery

e: Your gallery has been around for ten years and therefore predates a lot of the current initiatives Why did you start?

AR: For me it was a way of coming to terms with the horror of presenting my work to galleries. My background was as an historian, so I didn't have an art school background or the contacts that derive from that, and I was very naive. The idea of taking on a shop in which I could live, work and exhibit was a very attractive one. I had a naive idea that galleries were simply places in which you showed work, and why do that in a way which would involve the probable humiliation of rejection?

e: In the bar of every crap pub I go into there's a sign which reads: "Don't ask for credit as refusal will offend". Was there an element of that in it ?

AR: Probably. I was 24 and I'd had two years working in a studio, doing a part time art course (which I was thrown off - sort of wilfully really). I had to find a logical way to make sense of it because I was not going to present as someone who was a good bet as an artist. I'd had two years working as an artist, no training, I looked weird when I walked through the front door and I knew I would be treated as a nutter - or I would get into the thing of doing work which was palatable to a side of the art world which is about making interesting, but quite safe, work.
I was claiming the right to be able to govern my life and not having to work for someone else, working as a sculptor was the way to do that.

e: Why was it naive to set up your own gallery?

AR: Because I didn't have a fucking clue how to do it.

e: But they do say that the young are emboldened by ignorance.

AR: Absolutely.

e: So what were you ignorant of then that you're wise to now?

AR: I think I was ignorant of the amount of work involved. Soon after I started I thought: "God, this is at least two or three years of commitment". So it was naive to think that things happen fast; we worked hard for two years and generally weren't taken very seriously. It's something of a paradox that the more relaxed I've become about it the more seriously people take it. In the early days I remember applying for grants and if you don't have a track record they would say: "Why the hell should we give you any money?". If you are prepared to slog at it for four or five years people develop a grudging respect for what you are doing and, to an extent, if you completely trash the money they have given you they're just buying back what they've already had.
But I think I guessed well in respect to my relationship with other artists. I thought that as an artist running a space I wouldn't be in the same relationship as someone who's living it was. (I was always clear, thank God, that I wasn't going to make my living at it). There is an essential difference between someone who is doing it as a gift to someone else, and a curator who begins to know themselves through the way they run their gallery, and to whom the gallery is the main creative outlet .The Adam Gallery has never worked like that because in the end it's not my show, and if it's terrible...somebody else wasted an opportunity. And it should be possible to do that - you might learn more from a show which doesn't work than one which does.

e: You recently reorganised the way in which the gallery is run.

AR: I have always run the gallery with the help of other people. Two years ago I invited a board of seven people to make a formal commitment to sharing the decisions and workload. We were all very clear that it should retain the position of somewhere which is slightly off the London art map. The atmosphere of the place is, after all, very easy going and is designed to put people at their ease; and that is the way people should approach the gallery, if they try something out and blow it, it wont be the end of their career. So the shows can be quite variable - and in the end the artist's development is more important than their audience's experience..

e: One thing that strikes me is the extreme variability of many of these artist initiatives. They all seem refreshingly arbitrary. Before I started talking to people from artist-run spaces I naively subscribed to a notion that there was some sort of system....

AR: There is a collective fantasy that there is an art world which is somehow controlled, and I agree with you that there isn't, but it's to do with whether you subscribe to the fantasy or not. Adam Gallery is about not subscribing to that fantasy.
Around the Adam Gallery there are about half-a-dozen artist-led enterprises many of which are more prestigious, self-conscious and very different to us. Beaconsfield, for instance, is a gorgeous space and run in the right spirit. It all seems to come out of a disillusion with that whole collective fantasy. There is a sense of control within the art world which its difficult to locate the source of - in the sense that you can't be seen to do something which is embarrassing. But I don't really care if we do - if we do it for the right reasons. That's the way I think it's got to be.

© Interview Steve Rushton 1995elogo