everything talks with
This interview was conducted shortly after Jopling opened White Cube and gives a history of his development as a gallerist. Jopling went on to represent two artists of an older generation; Anthony Gormley and Mona Hatoum (both Turner prize nominees in 95). The assertion Jopling makes within the text that he is interested in an art that is "timeless" is an interesting one and serves the argument of those skeptical of the young British art that the it was not as radical as one would at first suppose.
However it would be naive in the extreme to conclude that the agendas and aims of the artists and gallerists were concurrent.
Note SR: 1996
Jay Jopling (JJ) represents five artists: Damien Hirst, Ita Doron, Marc Quinn,
Marcus Taylor and Gavin Turk. All have shown in spaces outside the usual
white gallery. Last year Jopling opened White Cube, an exhibition space
which also serves as the nerve centre and catalyst for a series of out of
gallery exhibitions and other projects.
e: Before the first show you did with Marc Quinn in 1988 you were dealing in the minimalist market, with works by artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Flavin. How did you move toward working with artists who were younger?
JJ: It had always been my intention to work with artists of my own
generation. Whilst at University in Edinburgh, I gained a huge
understanding of how the art world works by putting together a project
called "New Art - New World", a project in which I invited a number of
international artists to submit works for auction to charity on the theme
of "New Beginnings".
e: What year are we talking about?
JJ: 1986, when the art market was becoming very strong and it was
possible, if one kept one's head, to make a little bit of money.
e: This was, of course, a long time before Self (the Blood Head). What sort of work did he produce for that show?
JJ:: He was using bread dough as a medium - making sculptures which,
when complete, resembled expressionistic sculptures, but which, in fact
denied the whole process of expressionism. The actual form of the
finished piece was completed by the accidental process of the oven. His
own involvement in the final form of the sculpture was non-existent - which
interested him a lot.
e: There is also this idea of mutability which occurs in Damien Hirst's work - things being suspended from decay or having a propensity to decay.
JJ: Yes, the Blood Head is a very fragile sculpture and requires quite a degree of commitment on the part of the collector. That sculpture in a very clear way expresses the fragility between life and death; the sculptural form of Self (literally, its sculptural life) would be non- existent if one were to pull the plug out. A lot of people are horrified by the idea of it but when one is confronted by that sculpture they see it is remarkably calm .... almost serene. The eyes are closed; the mouth slightly open. I think it's a very significant work of art.
e: You later started to work with Damien Hirst, was this around the time of those two shows, Modern Medicine and Freeze?
JJ: I met Damian after those shows which I thought were particularly
impressive. He was someone who recognised the tremendous energy among his
contemporaries at Goldsmiths at that time and it was very much his
initiative that got those shows off the ground. Freeze was very much his
own project and then he worked with Carl Freedman and Billee Sallmann on
Modern Medicine and a show called Gambler.
e: A lot of Londoners wouldn't know it. The press for instance still seems to perceive the health of art in Britain as directly parallel to the health of Cork Street.
JJ: This has always been one of the problems. The national press in Britain are incredibly narrow-minded when it comes to contemporary art. Arts editors particularly - even if there is an art critic who might be supportive or open-minded to recent developments like Sarah Kent or Richard Dorment, most tend to be very disparaging about the so called avant garde. You only have to look at the more adventurous exhibitions such as Gravity and Grace which was dealing with key ideas which artists of today have really latched on to - the amount of young people who went to see that show was staggering; there were record attendance figures, yet this was in no way commensurate with the reviews that show got - it received appalling notices.
e: The larger London galleries, the Hayward with Gravity and Grace, the Serpentine with the Gordon Matta Clark show for instance, seem to be attempting to make a cultural link between what is going on today and the concerns of the past, and artists also seem to be marrying up with those ideas.
JJ: I think the directors of both those galleries, Julia Peyton-Jones and Andrea Schlieker at the Serpentine, Henry Meyric Hughes and Greg Hilty at the Hayward as well as Emma Dexter at the ICA are doing an excellent job in trying to give due regard to the influences which are relevant today.
e: Looking back at British art in the 1980s I get this image of loads of
heroic Scotsmen striking heroic poses in their pictures and one could say
that so far in the 90s we've seen a lot of artists who have received a
certain prominence as heroic Duchampians. There is that thing in the work
we've discussed and also in Gavin Turk's work - the idea of the artist
playing, in an ironic way, with that idea of heroism.
JJ: Firstly, the idea of artist as hero doesn't interest me at all.
I'm interested much more in the fact that a great piece of art can
transcend various ephemeral, cultural situations.
e: Can you tell me about the function of this space (White Cube) in relation to the rest of your programme.
JJ: Prior to working here I worked from my home in Brixton, which would serve as a meeting place for artists and collectors, and at an office there we would organise two to three exhibitions per year in independent spaces. These spaces were chosen for their relevance to a particular body of work, for instance we showed Marcus Taylor sculptures in a disused printing factory in Farringdon, Itai Doron's show was in a three roomed warehouse the size of a football field in Docklands. I continue that programme and recognise the restrictions of the typical commercialgallery space on artists - not just in terms of the scale but also by the very fact that most "gallery artists" have to exhibit in the same space every year or every eighteen months. I needed to get a place in the centre of town; White Cube represents the complete antithesis to our out-of-gallery exhibition programme, which is in many ways the more significant aspect of what we do. White Cube acts as a catalyst for other projects. We also have an office from which Julia Royce and I work and from which we can hopefully sell work.
e: There seems to be a lot more interest from galleries such as the Lisson and Saatchi in the work shown in artist run spaces. I wonder if you have any views on the implications of all this?
JJ: Independent spaces are in many ways the most exciting spaces in which to show art and I don't think it's any coincidence that important collectors are buying work from these exhibitions. There simply aren't the facilities here in London - there are too few galleries adventurous enough to support the extraordinary number of talented artists in this city. We are indeed fortunate that artists collaborate to put on exhibitions off their own bat - Cubitt Street and City Racing are fantastic examples of a process which works very successfully, I've seen some wonderful shows at both these locations.
e: Could we talk about the financial arrangements you have with your artists?
JJ: Every artist has a different requirement - I think one of the
greatest mistakes an artist or a dealer can make is to have preconceptions
- it's important to be as flexible as possible. The most important decision
I make is the decision as to which artist I want to work with, and having
made that decision I try to be as amenable to the requirements of the
artists as possible.
e: Do you make many sales to British collectors?
JJ: Contemporary art has a much stronger following throughout Europe - that is reflected in sales. Maybe 70-80% of the art I sell goes abroad, which is sad. As there are so few young, British collectors there will be a dearth of art works which might later be donated museums. So it is the public institutions which will eventually lose out.