Seth Siegelaub

Seth Siegelaub: It was my lack of economic means and l’air du temps which created the relationship that existed between the kinds of shows I did and the artists with whom I was involved. It was an attempt to get away from the gallery because my feeling at the time, as it is now in the case of publishing, is that a space becomes sacralised. The economics of the situation is such that you need to fill a space with eight or ten shows a year, and it is inconceivable that you can do that and remain interested in all of the work you show. You didn’t run a gallery, the gallery ran you – it was just another form of alienated work experience. The gallery came to determine the art to the extent that painters would paint paintings to fit the walls of their dealer.*

  • Buren, Daniel and Siegelaub, Seth (1988/89). May 68 and all that. Interviewed by: Claura, Michel and Dusinberre, Deke. In Bickers, Patricia and Wilson, Andrew, eds. Talking Art: Interviews with artists since 1976. London: Ridinghouse 2007, p.298.

Galleries: Commercial v. Subsidised

Taken from an article on the boom in London’s galleries, from 2006. This shows a rather pragmatic approach to the commercial system but maybe not to the consequences of being part of such a system – recent events have shown how fragile this system can be (and that’s not to say that a publicly-funded system is any less fragile, possibly more so). When Rob Tufnell says that the art market is somehow protected from a crash because “it’s too big”, that seems a little too optimistic. Every market will go through boom and bust periods, it’s in the nature of Capitalism for this to happen, and as such represents a kind of self-regulating system, not that makes it any easier for those who suffer it’s effects.

I know Rob indirectly and hope to be able to meet up with him when I’m in London over Christmas. Ancient and Modern is still going, by the way, it will be interesting to get Rob’s take on how things have gone since they opened and what he sees for the future of independent galleries.

Rob Tufnell and his business partner, Bruce Haines, are taking the ultimate risk. Tomorrow they will open a new gallery near Old Street, called Ancient and Modern. For the present, the world economy is healthy, art sales buoyed up by swaths of new collectors enriched by hedge-fund bonuses. But can a new gallery like this survive?

The gallery’s first show, with work by artists including Simon Periton and Francis Upritchard, is based on the idea of the memento mori. Tufnell says: “We are opening with a sort of funeral; we’re aware it might all go wrong … But I can’t see an art market crash happening. After 9/11, everyone assumed the market was over in New York, but it wasn’t; it’s too big.” He and Haines have scraped together money by saving their salaries and remortgaging; Haines still works part-time as a curator at Camden Arts Centre in north London, whereas Tufnell threw in his job as a curator at Turner Contemporary in Margate. Nor does he have any plans to return to subsidised galleries: the commercial sector offers more freedom, he thinks, to work closely and creatively with artists.

“At the end of three years we’ll either be ready to get a bigger space or I’ll get a job at Costa Coffee,” he says. “In the public sector, in the end you just exclude challenging practice. In my mind, the publicly funded arts are supposed to support what the market cannot, but apparently they cannot support an avant garde. You are competing with shopping centres, which is what [subsidised] art galleries increasingly resemble. None of this is why I went into art.

“I’m probably being very naive with the idea that if you put on interesting exhibitions you will end up self-funding. But for us this is, in the end, about independence, not about making money.”*



This is an old post (from April 2008) that for some unknown reason I never got round to publishing. Happy memories!

How was digging up all the roads in 798 at the same time, ever possibly considered a good idea?

It seems that nowhere is safe from the ‘dream’ that is the Olympics. 798 is currently undergoing massive roadworks which seem to be for the installation of a new streetlighting system. This is A Very Good Thing, as after dark 798 was pitch black once you got 5 feet away from a main road. The authorities have decided use this as an opportunity to install new conduits for cables along every street.

I’m beginning to think it’s just as well our new gallery space is currently undergoing renovation and thus closed, because I would be worried about our visitors’ safety (and my own safety) if they were to attempt to locate the gallery. For your viewing pleasure, I hereby present a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of the road we are on:





alternative BJ – project work

I think in general it’s an interesting question: what is alternative? It’s obviously completely relative to the established situation. I think the way things are at the moment in Beijing, that means working around the profound commercialisation of the majority of presentations that are currently taking place.

So, if I was asked to point someone in the direction of ‘alternative’ spaces in Beijing, where would I send them?

My first thought would be the Arrow Factory, a project space located in an old hutong shop front. And why do I think of this as alternative? Because it’s one of the few spaces which leaves behind the established art zones (798, Dashanzi, the Liquor Factory), and is also determinedly non-commercial.

I think project work in general and specifically the kind of things Arrow Factory are presenting, are some of the most interesting thing happening in the visual arts in Beijing at the moment. By ‘project’ I mean to go beyond producing just a set of products which fit nicely into the ultra-commercialised environment we have here at the moment. The gallery I look after also concentrates on projects, with an internal definition of working with the artists to make the most of their ideas, supporting them however we can, allowing them to develop their ideas in new presentations that may be within or outside the space itself. Other spaces like Long March, Arario and Joy Art (wow, they don’t have a website) also have this kind of vision, I think.

Another interesting space, although technically from Guangzhou, is Vitamin Creative Space. They are currently showing their ‘SHOP’ project here in Beijing after its debut at London’s Frieze Art Fair. Now this piece seems to throw the commercialism back in your face – it is a shop after all, positively revelling in the commercial status of the works on display, but by doing so you feel that there is an implicit critique going on of that structure from which the ‘SHOP’ gains it’s everyday meaning and rôle.

But I don’t think I’m being naïve or overly idealistic, even given the situation we are in at the moment. We all have to make money somehow, not least the artists, so I’m not talking about rejecting saleability altogether (unless that is your particular schtick). I’m just trying to make a case for seeing other meanings for artworks than an immediate call to their capital value, which in my experience has tended to lead to lack of innovation and staleness in recent Chinese contemporary art, as it has done elsewhere in the world at different moments.

With project work you have a kind of commitment to the artwork which seems to be one way to define ‘alternative’ at this moment in Beijing, as it’s not that common yet, or perhaps it’s just that good results are rare to find.

As an afternote, it will be interesting to see how things develop with the global financial downturn, and what this means for ‘alternatives’.

Zu Jing’s opening

Announcing that our next show at CPU:798 will be opening next weekend. This will also be the first new show in our new space, so I’m pretty excited about it.

The show is called “Frivolous” and is a set of installation by our artist Zu Jing. Zu Jing hails from Beijing and although she’s been working for a few years now on the series which we are presenting, this is the first showing of them in a gallery. She’s a very talented artist for whom we have high hopes! I’ve written a short introduction to the show on the website and will do a longer text over the next week.

So do join us next Saturday!