Purple Magazine
— Purple 76 Index issue 29

Coles sadie

portrait by JUERGEN TELLER
interview by OLIVIER ZAHM

leading the london art scene
the mind of a powerful gallerist
discerning and discreet

OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re one of the most prominant contemporary art galleries. I rarely publish an issue of Purple without finding at least one of your artists in the magazine. How do you decide to represent an artist?

SADIE COLES — Choosing artists is a completely irrational, instinctive decision. Something about the work just hooks itself into me. Like a puzzling addiction you didn’t see coming. It isn’t a rational decision about form or medium (painting, sculpture, film, or performance, for instance) or a strategic choice concerning gender, geographic spread, or age. Sometimes I am conscious about whether there are missing elements in my program, and about the need to remain open to new developments and different voices. I am looking for something disruptive that will change an argument, propose a viewpoint, or open a door.

OLIVIER ZAHM — When and why did you decide to become a gallerist?

SADIE COLES — From about the mid-’80s, I had a keen desire to work with living artists — people who generate profound and disruptive discourse in our culture. It changes the way we see the world. I have always been a bit starstruck by the audacity of artists, by the force that makes them do what they do. And I wanted to get on that tour bus.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you think you could have been an artist?

SADIE COLES — No. I knew I wasn’t good enough and signed off quite early.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you like the most — and the least — about London as a place for art?

SADIE COLES — I like the vast variety London offers, from small to huge, from local to global. I like the easy connectivity of London. The ease of communication with New York, Shanghai, Berlin, or Moscow, at all hours, makes it an excellent place for a sophisticated and dynamic art market. People come through here on a regular basis. Then there is the wider community of art schools, exceptional-quality public institutions, auction houses and galleries, big and small. But all of these rely on London’s openness. Brexit is a disaster, a massive act of self-harm for London and for the UK. I am in a gloomy swamp right now.

OLIVIER ZAHM — Your gallery on Kingly Street is in what was formerly the La Valbonne nightclub in swinging London. Does contemporary art connect with the idea of alternative lifestyles in your point of view?

SADIE COLES — Yes, good art offers alternative viewpoints, and transgression is an important part of contemporary culture. Eighties club culture was a huge influence on my generation, especially in terms of self-belief, freedom of expression, and a rebelliousness that challenged hierarchies. I had a great time in places like Billy’s, Heaven, and the Mudd Club: there was a sense of a generation making things happen. The YBAs [Young British Artists] came slightly later, but from the same spirit.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is the art world missing the most today?

SADIE COLES — I am not sentimental about the past. We have experienced massive changes in the way art is accessed and experienced, via the Internet, and the global reach of that has been phenomenal. Museums and galleries, and the art market, have adapted by accepting that what was once an infinitely smaller local audience has now exploded. The process of finding information, and connecting to what you want, is now faster, simpler, and more democratic. This is good, but instant accessibility also necessitates a rigorous critical filter, in the form of curators, critics, and museums. Connoisseurship, focus, and really looking hard at art have never been more important.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is changing in the art world?

SADIE COLES — The gallery system of the 20th or even 19th centuries is now eroding, especially the model of representation and the idea of the gallery as gatekeeper to the artist and as the holder of a unique archive. These relationships are going to be very different in the future. A useful gallery now provides advice and context, and proposes strategies, alongside the traditional role of offering beautiful spaces to exhibit new work.   

OLIVIER ZAHM — Is art criticism dead today, in favor of art market evaluation?

SADIE COLES — No. Art criticism, the examination and study of art, is essential, and it guides serious collections and museum activity. The art market sometimes pays attention, too. When so much contemporary art is available, the filter of criticism becomes vital.

OLIVIER ZAHM — How is your work evolving? Is it very different from when you started?

SADIE COLES — It is so different now. The simple fact is that everything is expected to be accomplished immediately, meaning that the pace of our activity has a quite devastating effect on the life / work balance. Getting time to think and to imagine seems harder and harder.

OLIVIER ZAHM — What is changing in the art world?

SADIE COLES — Me. As the world gets faster, you slow down.

END

[Table of contents]

Purple 76 Index issue 29

Table of contents

Purple Index 76

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