Gallery talks with Michael

I’d like to start talking about Hannah Barry Gallery by talking about another gallery: ‘All Visual Arts’. AVA is a high end, uber-slick, glitz and glamourous arts enterprise with a polished approach to everything they do. Now Hannah Barry Gallery is the antithesis of AVA. Some contrasts: AVA show their artists at One Marylebone; HBG show theirs in a converted warehouse in Peckham. AVA is the offspring of one of the biggest hedge fund CEOs; our HBG is the offspring of a bunch of college pals. At worlds apart, the thing that HBG is capable of perfectly emulating is the only thing that really matters: good art.

I met the HBG team not too far from the gallery. They were organising their next exhibition, while giggling about each other’s middle name. Hannah Barry, Ross Chalmers, Joseph Balfour, Jamie Byrom, George Howard – all sitting around a table with enough laptop power to launch a spaceship.

Most questions were answered by Hannah Barry – the distinct ringmaster.

What made you open a gallery? What is the gallery fulfilling for you?
The gallery is here to do a very simple thing: to look after new international artists and to make the very best exhibitions of their work. The gallery is very focused on solo presentations, in-depth solo exhibitions because we believe that that’s the best way to show new art.

Is there anything else – something you did not have and now you do have since you’re running a gallery?
A lot of hassle! Joking aside, the fact that we are most often working with young artists, while being young ourselves, creates a partnership of understanding. Working with your contemporaries, which become friends, makes us all work on the same level, which is a good thing.

Is there any difference for you between a good work of art by a young, un-established artist and a good work of art by an established, maybe dead, artist?
There are A-grade works, B-grade works, C-grade works, and so on. An A-grade work, in the context of what it is is always a great work. It’s just about what the ‘thing’ is. At the same time, if I’m looking at a Picasso, I’m looking at it in a different way. There is a different context, because there is a lot of history and comparison to be made, but most of the time you have to look at the ‘thing’ itself and question yourself what is the quality of that ‘thing’, not what is the quality of that person. These are two completely different things. Also different things are important at different times. What’s important to us may not be important in 25 years, while things that are not important to us now may be more important to some in 25 years. For example Jasper Jones is important in different ways, depending who you are and how you look at him, where you come from, what you do, what you think about painting, how you think about America and so on. The great thing about art is that it can involve everyone because it’s so diverse, and you always find out surprising things about yourself when you look carefully.

How do you meet your artists? How do you come across new work/artists? Do you visit a lot of degree shows?

We don’t spend that much time looking at degree shows. We’re not really thinking about ‘artist-post-degree’. We’re just thinking about having a gallery that works for the artists in it. We share with each other artists that stand out for us. We say ‘Hey you should really have a look at this artist’s work.’ Sometimes the artists that we work with say ‘Hey, just seen these paintings. Hannah, you should go have a look at them.’ Then we go and have a look at them. It’s really an organic process. You never know where the next good work is going to come from.

How much risk do you take when you come to decide what sort of art to represent?
How much risk do you think it takes to open a gallery with no backing, no money, with artists who have no reputation and begin in a world which is dangerous? That’s how much risk it takes. Art is always risky. Any kind of activity that involves supporting someone else is risky.

Yes, but is there a sort of criteria, maybe a subconscious criteria for when it comes to judging to choose the work you represent?
There is no criteria. It is about great works and whether you can do something for the artists. There are things you can do, things you can’t do, things you can learn how to do, things you can make yourself do. But there are things that will always avail you. One of the most difficult things is to learn to surrender to what you cannot do. Because there are things you just can never do and that other people will always be better then you and the best thing to do is to go and admire that person for doing what they do so well.

If your question is ‘Are we commercial?’, well, we are commercial because we have no financial backing and we have to make it all work, but there is no commercial judgment. The point is, we just have to make great exhibitions. We try to show people the importance of the things we show, and if we succeed in doing this, then it will be a success. We can’t say: ‘This is high risk art – so we won’t show it.’ There are a lot of galleries who do fantastically well showing what’s considered high-risk art, such as installation work.

The following day I went to the exhibition venue – to The Hannah Barry Gallery itself, to take the photos you see here. Luckily for me, there was Sven Muender who gave me an impromptu guided tour like no other.

The gallery is situated in a patchy area where you wouldn’t expect a gallery to be. Neighbors include a scaffolding warehouse and a car-wash. On the other hand, if one looks at the bigger picture, it is in a location where it should be: placed ideally between Camberwell College and Goldsmiths College, with many art students crossing its paths.

The current exhibition, titled: New Work, New York consists of work of four painters from New York. Matteo Callegari, Wyatt Kahn, Erik Lindman and Anton Zolotov. As Sven explained to me, one can say it is a result of an investigation into the transatlantic exchange of abstract painting. They are all current work showcasing a variety of approaches on abstraction.

The show came to a close on 27 May, but not to worry, because on June 4th there’ll be a new one called Together Afar. The gallery is really worth visiting if you’re in London. Ask for Sven.

And speaking of exhibitions opening on June 4th (!) – I’ll have some of my own work at the RELOCATION show at the BOV head office in Malta. Would love to see you there!


Hannah Barry Gallery, Warehouse 9i, 133 Copeland Road London SE15 3SN

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Michael Xuereb

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Previous Gallery Interviews:
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Talk: Riflemaker Gallery

2. Gallery
Talk: Thomas Dane Gallery

3. Gallery Talk: Mummery +Schnelle Gallery