Maureen Paley has been leading east London's gallery scene since she founded her first space on Beck Road in 1984. Ahead of her conversation with Harper’s Bazaar features editor Helena Lee, on their Women in Art Portfolio; we met at Maureen Paley to talk independent spirit, openness and international outlook.
You opened Morena di Luna this summer – what inspired you to OPEN another space, and what drew you to Brighton?
Brighton’s general openness– makes me feel connected there and through Morena di Luna I feel like I can make a contribution to this atmosphere. Even prior to opening the gallery, I've had a place there for the last 14 years and I love bringing artists and friends down, and introducing them to the town if they didn't already know it. Brighton is dedicated to music, art and has it’s own history and sensibility, one that I think marries well with my personal outlook.
Is there a curatorial focus for Morena di Luna?
Everything is in its planning stages for next year. Paulo Nimer Pjota's show is on until the 15th October, and we will pick up again next spring. I like the idea of shows being on for at least two months, and that we are only open at weekends (Saturday & Sunday 12-6pm). We will have shows with gallery artists, and can also present projects with those we don't represent in London.
How are you considering the Regency architecture in relation to the gallery programme?
I am inspired by the Common Guild in Glasgow and Raven Row in London, and I’ve always liked Castello di Rivoli in Turin. What ties them together as spaces is their placing of contemporary artworks in historical settings that have been given a minimal treatment, upending what one might expect to find in such a place. Morena di Luna is in a Regency flat that is handled in much the same way.
As well, Peggy Guggenheim’s collection in Venice is another good example of somewhere that manages to successfully show work in contrast to its setting. Morena di Luna presents an alternative to my London space, which is a light industrial building.
It’s really great to have somewhere that challenges me and the artists in another way.
To return to the beginning, when you opened your space on Beck Road, how did that space influence your curatorial practice?
The important thing to point out about Beck Road is that, for me, it was never a domestic home. It was a derelict house, a Victorian terrace, made available to me through ACME Housing Association at the time. I considered it a space to show work, and the conversion I did was very simple – grey floors, white walls, neutral lighting – an approach I’ve retained to this day.
That allowed me to do whatever I wished with the house, it was very much a shell, and it had no amenities. Beck Road was much more like project space, I was working with a variety of international artists, using my hybrid knowledge of New York and London. This made it different, it wasn’t local, which was surprising at the time I began.
It sounds like you took it as opportunity to do something surprising, and not necessarily jarring, but something that would wake people up.
Exactly, rather than working with the status quo. I was making it up as I went along, and because I didn’t originate in the East End – I had gone to Sarah Lawrence College and Brown University, and had been exposed to a wide breadth of thinking.
I didn’t see the East End as an awkward destination.
I didn’t have historical connotations particular to the location. It was a very intriguing time, it was the early 80s (I opened in 1984 but had the house since 1977), and there were no expectations.
How has your relationship with Tillmans, and his relationship to the space, impacted his shows at the gallery?
I’ve worked with Wolfgang from the very beginning, and his intense knowledge of my space (having inhabited it upstairs as a studio) is interesting. It makes his shows in the gallery very intimate.
I understand the gallery as a gallery, but also as a project space. It can morph into several different things and be an experimental ground for people to work in.
Historically, I’m interested in work that challenges the idea of the gallery, work that struggles and strains to go beyond its walls, etc.
In trying to establish common ground between the artists you represent, I was considering how they all share social concerns, which are expressed with a lightness of touch. It’s political, but with a focus on how politics impacts society, and people’s daily lives.
Yes, I think so. I often say that my artists have social concerns that extend over and above a partisan 'political outlook'. There’s a humanitarian orientation, it’s non-cynical, non-judgemental, not preaching from on high. It’s more engaged with issues we are all facing.
As a gallery, we also believe that if we are able to flourish, we must give back. I lend support to a lot of spaces in London, and give to a number of charities. We want to show that we are committed to the broader public; and our artists are aware of the privilege of their position, to even create at all in this society.
What are your plans for the next few months?
We've just opened a show in London with a very interesting collective called Tim Rollins and K. O. S. I met them in the late 80s, so I’ve known them from the earliest days of their career. Then we had a hiatus where we kept in touch, but didn’t work together, because I wasn’t doing as much importing. In the last decade, we’ve been working together again, which I feel is a kind of homecoming.
They’ve made special work for the space, they really understand the context of the gallery – they too are political, and very social, literary as well as musical – and are looking at both scores and texts that relate to important ideas to be aware of in our times.
Following on, in the early part of the new year, we’ll be taking part in CONDO; an initiative led by Vanessa Carlos of Carlos/Ishikawa, where London galleries lend their spaces to other international galleries. We’re working with a gallery we like very much called dépendance, from Brussels.
Ever since I began, I’ve had an international outlook. I love bringing people to London, leading them to the East End and now on to Brighton & Hove. When we first started at Beck Road, and even Herald Street, there weren’t so many galleries around, I was very much a pioneer. It’s fascinating to see the area grow and flourish, it really does have a life of its own.
Visit Maureen Paley at Frieze London this week (stand D16) and at her London gallery at 21 Herald Street, E2 6JT and her Hove gallery at 3 Adelaide Crescent, BN3 2JD! Maureen will also be speaking at Marguerite's Women in Art Portfolio event on Saturday 21 October! In the meantime, you can check out the gallery at www.maureenpaley.com