everything talks with Karsten Schubert.

Whiteread's HouseImage 1
Karsten Schubert has shown work by artists including Rachel Whiteread, Alison Wilding, Keith Coventry and Angus Fairhurst. The Gallery's group and one-person shows continue to be seen as a barometer of the art scene.

Image 1:
Rachel Whiteread
Courtesy Karsten Schubert
Photo: E Woodman
Commissioned by Artangel and sponsored by Becks

Karsten Schubert's Web site can be found at

e: It would be impossible to discuss the nineties without first discussing the eighties when British art gained much more of an international profile, particularly in the area of sculpture. I suppose that a lot of that was down to the influence of the Lisson Gallery.

KS: I think you can even go further and say that it was all down to the influence of the Lisson Gallery. British art of the eighties was what happened at that gallery and there was nobody else around. Nicholas Lonsdale had the run of the field which was both a very privileged position and yet at the same time a difficult position to be in, because you had no alternative debate, so it was very easy for certain people to deny the power and strength of what was happening.

e: On the other hand it does allow for a certain force of argument. Given that it's a place which shows a great proportion of a particular kind of work which collectively becomes a recognisable and coherent voice. It becomes emblematic, in a sense a corporate identity.

KS: Yes, it does make for a certain strength but it's like one-stop-shopping; if you are a writer or a curator you went there and got all the information you needed. At a certain point it denied artists' identities because you had this label attached to it. When you looked at individual positions they were quite widespread and diverse and I think this got lost, at the beginning at least. But, yes, initially this was helpful even though the artists moaned about it.

e: You said in Technique Anglaise that there was a point in the early eighties when art criticism became too narrow a platform and that the market began to lead. Can you go into that in a bit more detail?

KS: There was a funny moment in about 1982/3 when the critics realised that their endorsement did not matter - it did not carry any weight. The market was a powerful mechanism to do it on its own - to the point where you had the perverse phenomena of the critics denying the validity of certain works and the market going for it regardless. That was a quite dramatic change because before that point the two were pretty much in tandem.

e: After leaving the Lisson Gallery you were working with Richard Salmon. How did that partnership start and how did in end?

KS: It began in 1987 and ended 7 years later. I suppose it ended because we did not see eye to eye any longer on many issues that are central to running a contemporary art gallery.

e: When did the boom in the art market end?

KS: The funny thing was that the peak and the collapse were so close together. The peak was November/December 1990 and by May 1991 the market had collapsed.

e: Why?

KS: Essentially there were too many people in it for a quick buck and there came a point when it became obvious that speculators constituted by far the largest faction in the market place. Whenever this happens any market will collapse.

e: Since 1988 there have been a number of shows (Freeze, Modern Medicine, Gambler, East Country Yard Show) which were initiated by or included many of the artists you have subsequently shown. These artist-run exhibitions were part of an explosion of activity, the effects of which, in one sense, are still reverberating and in another sense have become established.
How did you get involved in that scene.

KS: The original wave of 1988 was due to the fact that there was an amazing concentration of very interesting artists at Goldsmiths College who were ready and wanted to show what they were doing and saw that there were very few outlets in London. They were definitely not willing to wait for people to make up their minds about them. The classic pattern is that you are watched by dealers for a while and get an occasional studio visit and a pat on the back and these artists were not willing to play the game this way, they wanted to chance the rules and take the initiative. You can't blame them, because there was something very patronising about the old way.
They did it incredibly well on their own and the big surprise was that everybody who mattered paid attention. All this shocked a lot of people because the pace previously had been very leisurely and predictable and suddenly these artists were forcing the agenda. It was very exciting and slightly anarchic - and it felt good. At that time we were looking after two UK artists, Bob Law and Alison Wilding, but shortly after we started working with Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Mat Collishaw, Angus Fairhurst, Rachel Whiteread, Anya Gallaccio and, a little later, Keith Coventry.

e: There started to be a flexibility of artists showing in different places; commercial galleries, independent spaces and such...

KS: Suddenly there was the idea that you did not necessarily need a gallery. Actually I always thought that was putting a brave face on the fact that there really weren't enough galleries who were prepared to take on young artists.

e: There is a different situation operating now than to a similar phenomena which occurred in the Sixties with AIR and SPACE who set up a successful gallery and studio organisation. The difference this time round is that the current generation don't seem to have any antipathy to the art market whatsoever.

KS: There was an antipathy to the market because there wasn't much of a market. It is quite soothing to express disdain for what you can't have.

e: So the market is in a pretty healthy state? Despite what appears the continuing dissolution of Cork Street?

KS: What we have witnessed in London over the last four years is the emergence of a new art scene. It is quite apparent that it is no longer the old guard only. It is new people and new faces and new ways of doing things and they have been successful because they have not been encumbered by their own history. These people can develop new models of how to dealwith things. Look at Jay Jopling; this idea of a small space in conjunction with temporary large spaces is a very novel approach.

e: As we have said, a lot of artists we have been talking about were graduates of Goldsmiths in the late eighties which seems to have been the training ground for a generation of artists and curators. What appears at first sight to be a network may actually be a closed system; a clique in which artists are showing their mates who in turn show their mates and it all goes around in a neat circle.

KS: I think that's a bit unfair. I do not believe that there is a manipulative urge behind it. These artists are talking to each other and stick together because they share certain convictions and ideas. There is a time-honoured tradition to this, I mean, look at Cubism for example. You would not describe Picasso and Braque as a little cliquey, would you? All I can see is that there are people who share agendas and of course they should get together and talk and in this way further the debate. If you have anything to say in that context they would be very willing to take you up and include you. I suppose that the accusation of a closed network is unavoidable because the art world is so small. Yes, it is easy to say that it is the same fifty or so people over and over again, but this is not surprising because it is a very specialist occupation. If you talk about nuclear physicists, actors, athletes or whatever, it is also the same old faces again and again. I think people bring this up as a way of dismissing a whole set of concerns. I'd rather have people talk about the work, which is not easily dismissable, because if it was people wouldn't get so worked up about it.

e: Do you think that the debate about Rachel Whiteread's "House" generated more heat than light?

KS: It is very difficult to gauge the success of the debate in absolute terms but if we look at the number of people who felt it was necessary to participate in it I think it was a triumph. There were people coming out of the woodwork who I thought would not waste a second thought about art but felt compelled to declare themselves very publicly. It was not the classic situation where you had the Philistines on one side and The People Who Know on the other, and it wasn't a negative debate. Of the 120 or so press cuttings I've seen only about a fifth were negative. If you make a comparison too with the controversy that surrounded Carl Andre's "Equivalent VIII" it definitely marked a progress and I am sure that any future debate will in turn benefit from the debate "House" engendered.

© Steve Rushton 1994elogo