Ancient & Modern, the gallery founded by Bruce Haines in 2006, has opened a new space in the West End, changing its name to Bruce Haines Mayfair.
The gallery’s first show is Ultramarine, a display of new paintings by the acclaimed British artist, Tim Braden. The exhibition is comprised of several large and medium-scale still lifes executed in acrylic and oil, presented alongside a hand-knotted abstract wool rug laid on the floor in the centre of the gallery.
I had the chance to talk to both Bruce and Tim about the opening of the new space and the exhibition.
Interview with Bruce Haines
What were the main reasons for relocating (Originally located in Whitecross Street in Islington)?
I think because when we moved to Whitecross street there weren’t really any galleries around there apart from Cabinet, we thought it would be interesting to open a gallery which was also showing 20th century material of interest to the contemporary artists we wanted to work with in that area, so being called Ancient & Modern was kind of interesting when you’re based around the Barbican. It was also interesting to have this idea of the ancient & the modern, the fact that the things that are made now and the artists we were showing somehow made work which looked like they might pre-date what we think of as being modern, that was a sort of filter around some of the people we might have shown at the beginning. But of course things shift a bit when you carry on and the network of artists you work with necessarily starts to reflect your own personal taste and own social network or anti-social network if you don’t go out very much. The first day I took the keys to come in here I walked out the front door of the gallery and bumped into somebody that I usually only see on an annual basis at an art fair, and he was walking down the street – hopefully next time I wont be wearing lycra! I also think being here allows us to collaborate much more with other galleries on a similar level to us whether they’re in New York or Zurich, maybe we can do gallery swaps as it’s a great opportunity for them to come here.
What prompted the name change?
When the gallery was set up, we previously had a life in the public sector, so that makes it very difficult to name a gallery after yourself when you have just stepped out of institutional life, after around 15 years. I think that the need to have that curatorial veil of the ancient & modern around the programme was maybe at the time our unique selling point. However now a lot of galleries combine showing historical work with contemporary in a way they didn’t before, in fact every other booth does this now at the art fairs, so in a way we have stopped doing that and I personally want to focus on solo shows of our artists and I don’t feel the need to pretend to be a curator as if that’s the only interesting thing to do in the world. So I wanted it to be clearer and actually the reason we have changed the name really came out of talking to Alex Rich, it was him that suggested on a 24 hour road trip around Wales including climbing up and down Snowden at 5 o’clock in the morning that perhaps it was time to leave ancient & modern behind. When you put your name above the door it sort of means there is a certain responsibility that you behold; maybe it’s a sign of growing up and of the confidence you have in your artists when you are prepared to put your name above the door – standing shoulder to shoulder with the artists you’re representing.
How do you feel the art market in London has changed since you opened Ancient & Modern in 2006?
I think its become much more multilayered. I think its much more polarised between the very big galleries of which you might also add galleries which used to be smaller and more idiosyncratic like Sadie Coles, Victoria Miro, they’re operating more like Hauser and Wirth and Gagosian; so you have the very big galleries and then the very small ones, thank god there are more artist run spaces that have opened in the last three or four years, but for a while they were none; they were all closing.
You originally worked for 15 years in the public sector, 5 of which you were Exhibition’s curator at the Camden Arts Centre – do you feel the private sector offers more freedom (in terms of the artists you work with and the type of shows you can put on)?
There is a sense of idealism looking at the commercial sector from the public sector; the actual fact of having a salary and not having the worry work — that’s freedom. But there are stresses and strains of having to be at somebody else’s place of work by 9 or 9.30 or whatever so maybe there is a certain freedom of it being up to you. In terms of what you can do I would say you’re high-bound by your financial situation and that can be extremely constricting, there is a lot more worry work with running anything by yourself, but in that respect you have a much closer relationship with your artists than you do in the public sector. In this situation we are all taking huge risks, we are doing it together, you’re completely in it together — it’s much more like horse racing, where you’re gambling the whole time. Essentially in the commercial sector you are gambling, in the public sector the only stress you feel is the stress you put on yourself or the stress you feel from your boss. Cornelia Grassi once told me or reminded me it is a privilege to have a gallery and sometimes it’s good to remind one of that.
What are you exhibiting at Frieze this year?
We always do something a little bit special anyway at the fair. We used to have to do that because it was kind of project based in the baby sections, but the irony is we have now got to the main section but we are still showing one or two, sometimes three artists, I mean last year we showed literally two dozen. This year we have tried to focus on two British artists Tim Braden and Des Hughes who is showing co-currently at the Hepworth Wakefield which also makes a nice connection – the sculpture is going to look very nice with Tim’s paintings, for us it makes sense to try and make a more focused booth.
Interview with Tim Braden:
I recently read that the works were a snapshot of your artistic practice, what you describe as ‘weaving through connections between seemingly disparate ideas’ – how important is it to be able to explore a variety of ideas and influences?
All the books in the paintings are things I have had around for ages and have been massively influential on the way I work. Images that I think are beautiful and relate to each other. Yes, the exhibition is kind of a reflection of my whole practice, from rugs to sculptures, to printmaking, influences by other artists and figures like Roberto Burle Marx the Brazilian landscape architect. The works are shamelessly decorative on a massive scale; when I went to art school you were always told that an artist and a decorative artist were set apart– that the latter was mere craft, a sort of lesser art form – which is completely the opposite – I mean any decent artist loves all those kind of things! I often choose a style that reflects the subject matter and happily bounce back to various mediums from oil on canvas to wool.
But then there is another whole side of my work which will be at Frieze which is a much softer palette, evocative of light, you sort of need a bigger space around three times the size of this – this is almost a referential show in a way. This stuff made sense in here and then the work at Frieze will be big abstract paintings which are based on details of other paintings, big beach paintings, very big evocative shapes which were also designs for rugs – so there is an overlap.
The exhibition is comprised of several large and medium- scale still lifes executed in acrylic and oil, presented alongside a hand-knotted abstract wool rug laid on the floor in the centre of the gallery – how do the paintings relate to the hand-knotted centre-piece?
What I like about materials is every material has its own rules. You want to push it but you also want to allow the restrictions of the medium to effect the work, the restriction forces you to become creative to try and solve the problem, so turning a paining into a rug was a really important one. I spent four months working out every single knot. The rug forces you to change the way you make a painting because normally its on the wall — it has to go that way up, but with a rug it kind of has to work from every angle and so the rules are all very different and that has come back into my paintings again and effected the way that I think of the surface of a painting as this all over thing.
– Harry Dougall
Tim Braden Ultramarine opened at Bruce Haines Mayfair on 9 October and will be on view until 30 October; 33 Saint George Street London W1S 2FL; Admission: FREE