Interview with Symposium Speaker Agnieszka Prendota, Creative Director, Arusha Gallery

Agnieszka Prendota, Creative Director at Arusha Gallery is a speaker at Future Now: The Aesthetica Art Prize Symposium 2016, running 26-27 May at York St John University. Prendota’s talk The Symbiotic Relationship Between Public and Private Galleries, takes the form of a panel discussion with Sophie Hall, Director, Flowers Gallery; Kirstie Hamilton, Head of Exhibitions and Display, Museums Sheffield; Stephanie Bush, Programme and Production Manager, Zabludowicz Collection; and Dr Steven Gartside, Curator and Research Fellow, Holden Gallery. It is chaired by Dr James Boaden, Lecturer, History of Art, University of York. We speak to Prendota ahead of this event offering insight into the relationship between public and private galleries.

A: The discussion you are participating in for the Symposium focuses on the key differences between private and public galleries, and their symbiotic relationship. Can you give us an insight into what you think the key differences might be?
AP: I think the most obvious difference is that privately funded galleries have to be conscious of the commerciality of the works they show as well as the type of audience they show it to (i.e they have to be able to identify potential buyers). As private galleries predominantly survive of sales, though in ideal world and in the most exciting galleries it is paired with critical and curatorial selection process, saleability of the works is what keeps them open and what allows them to further support the artists and expose them to opportunities offered by public galleries. Public galleries, naturally have their own constraints-filling funding applications can be equally as grueling a task as finding the right buyer for a challenging piece. They are more dependent on the funding bodies, but their footfall is treated more equally and often allows for braver curatorial decisions.

A: The aforementioned relationship is vital to maintaining a healthy art market and building artists’ careers. In your opinion, how is the UK art market’s current health, and how could we improve it?
AP: I think it is hard to talk about the health of the art market as a whole in UK as it seems to be very depended on location. There are different funding bodies for Scotland and England, and different priorities as to where the money should go. Creative Scotland which is the main body supporting arts in Scotland funds all arts not only fine art. Private market in London is entirely different to the one in Glasgow, and though short distance apart Edinburgh is an entirely different market to Glasgow. I suppose that variation in a way is a sign of a healthy market-in fact Manchester is a great booming art market with the likes of Frank Cohen actively supporting the fairs. We are a partner gallery in Artsy and judging by their visitors and sales figures UK is doing pretty well on the whole!

A: You are Creative Director at Arusha Gallery in London, which currently presents the exhibitions and works of around 25 artists. Is there anyone in particular we should look out for in the coming months?
AP: There is some great exhibitions we have coming up; on Friday 6  May we opened for Ilona Szalay who was a Threadneedle finalist, ORA prize winner and a painter I am positive is going to be looked at by many in public collections in the future. Her work balances between abstract and figurative with a rich and complex narrative exploring the relationships between power and vulnerability. We are having a summer of photography with shows by Alicia Savage-who I believe was in the previous issue of Aesthetica, Carolina Mizrahi-a great young photographer who is creating an experience room in August and Juno Calypso who is the recent BJP International Awards winner and the most incredibly feisty lady. In October we have a show of Pippa Youngs oil paintings-her skill is comparable to old masters with the most contemporary composition. We are very excited for the rest of 2016!

A: Arusha is dedicated to allowing a vast selection of internationally selected artists to tell their stories through their artwork. What is the process involved in this selection, and how are you involved in this process as Creative Director?
AP: We get approximately 40 submissions a week. Its a lot to go through, so we do tend to sit down every 2-3 months and look at the bulk of them but to be honest most of the artist we sign we look for ourselves. The work we choose has to speak to us on either visual, intellectual or emotional level and if it does on all three that’s called a good day at work. We tend to plan our shows up to two years in advance and usually look for people when we find there is a gap both in terms of dates, we have a curated group show which seems to lack a voice or if we identify that our clients are looking for something particular.

The search usually starts with an intention to find a new figurative or abstract painter, a photographer or after a visit to a public gallery where we had a great experience and we are like ‘this was great, we have to look in that direction’, and we do. We look at artists’ Instagram, awards shortlists and also speak to artists we already represent to see who are they favourites at the moment. After the initial infatuation moment, which 9 out of 10 times will happen online, we tend to go to the artists studio and see the work in flesh, get a feeling for the way and speed they work at and after that discuss potential shows we think would work as well as make a plan for art fairs (they are very big part of the gallery) and then wait eagerly for the first photos of the works to start coming in.

A: This month, Arusha is an exhibiting gallery in Art16, London’s global art fair, featuring the works of artists Lauren McLaughlin, Sophie Milner and Ilona Szalay. How do art fairs help the gallery to connect ti audiences?
AP: We absolutely love fairs, though exhausting they are a condensation of what is great about the art-client interaction. The additions to the client banks are immense and incomparable to everyday gallery footfall. In a way fairs like a bit like speed dating-you meet your clients, you start a relationship and you either hit it of or not. Visitors are moving from one booth to another-it is a visual feast and you get to bring it to them. Galleries are where you grow this relationship and where you nurture it but fairs are were you fall in love. Great thing about fairs like Art16 or London Art Fair is that they target collectors as well as buyers for public collections, this gives your artist an incredible chance to be noticed by people and funding which are otherwise largely unattainable.

Book tickets for Future Now and join the discussion:

Travel to Future Now: The Aesthetica Art Prize Symposium in York with Virgin Trains.

1. Vikram Kushwah, Elizabeth and the Bathtub (2013). From the series Memoirs of Lost Time.