Cultural journalists are often tempted to, maybe too easily, consider ‘young gallerists’ as ‘fresh’ and ‘forward-thinking’. In an interview by The Guardian’s Matthew Caines to London’s Edel Asanti gallery owners, Jeremy Epstein and Charlie Fellowes, we have a good opportunity to assess how ‘fresh’ their approach to art dealing is. Caines’ belief is inspired by an article published by Marcus Field in the Independent where the young generation of dealers are presented as the first one whose careers had started aspiring to work as art dealers. By contrast to the majority of the past generation of art dealers who, allegedly, found their career paths from mixed backgrounds, the new one has started as ‘apprentices’ of older ‘mentors’. The problem with this is whether this ‘guild-like socialisation’ gives them a fresh approach to art dealing or just makes them even more conservative and market oriented than the previous generation.
Both Epstein and Fellowes are public school alumni (Harrow?) who decided to start their art salesmen careers in Bond Street well established dealerships. At a point they decided to associate to work in collaboration with Westminster Council on a series of pop-up exhibitions while they worked full time with their ‘mentors’. Those public funded early projects gave them the funds to open a permanent gallery. Their first space was in a derelict (although interesting) building on Vauxhall Bridge Road by Victoria Station. Later they moved from the building to a white cube specially arranged in the ground floor of that same address. A few months ago they moved to the West End taking the place that Nick Hawksworth left empty after deciding to close the flawed Paradise Row.
Both Epstein and Fellowes attended my 40th birthday party and they are very nice people. Having said that, they are salesmen and as a consequence, people pleasers. They can get maybe too connective after a couple of drinks but that is the closest one gets to their real selves. They refrain to have opinions and tend to like everything. In other words, they adjust their views to their audience only to please. Fellowes gets rhetorical to the point of caricature. Are his eyebrows painted? Does he use make up? That is why when asked by Caines about Edel Assanti’s artistic view they pompously say that they represent ‘artists who are simultaneously forward-thinking and conscious of their place in a broader art historical context’. And they add: ‘We are drawn to concept-driven work, where technical approaches endorse the ideas behind the work itself’. As expected, this sounds perfect but, we could define London in the same way. A forward thinking, yet traditional and history oriented one. But what does this mean?
To say it plainly, Edel Assanti are derivative and detached. They draw attention to themselves as ‘conceptual’ but it is difficult to see ‘concepts’. Instead they seem to confuse ‘concept’ by ‘influences’. They seem to find their source of artistic value in the ‘materials’ or ‘procedures’ (protocols?) as if they needed to justify their prices and both Epstein and Fellowes’ overheads. That is why, it does not come as a surprise that when referring to the work of artist Jodie Carey they seem to justify her ‘concept’ as ‘her finding inspiration from disparate cultural sources from Scandinavia to South East Asia, the Neolithic to modern’. According to them, ‘her large sculptures’ (and to be honest they are hardly sculptures) are ‘made of plaster and are the result of carving by hand solid blocks’. If the fact that they were carved by hand makes them ‘artistic’, we are in trouble. The same happens with Andrew Lacon’s minimalist objects. According to Fellowes: ‘his works , taking reference from art history, are an attempt to understand sculpture through imagery, reintroducing the material concerns and use of colour lost through documentation. The work focuses on the display and representation of sculpture, working with objects and techniques lost in its reproduction’. Let me assure that there is nothing of this (in case it meant anything at all) in his objects.
Gordon Cheung is another one of these kind of artists. He has worked with them for more than four years and I guess it is their cash cow. This, of course, at the cost of his artistic castration. Cheung has been repeating the same kind of ‘newspaper as canvas’ paintings for years and there is nothing exciting about it. I would not call his ‘paintings’ artistic or even conceptual but crafty and artisanal.
A couple of years ago I saw an exhibition in the Victoria space composed by magnified pictures of human remains (ashes, to be specific) that were presented as ‘abstract’. There was nothing visually interesting about these images. It was when one was informed that one was actually looking at someone’s bodily remains (without his or his family’s consent) that art was supposed to happen. I find it opportunistic and repulsive. I have the feeling that they know what they are doing and what they know is how to conceal the fact that they know what they are doing.
There is nothing fresh in Edel Assanti but a short cut to success where art is the real victim. Art as salesmanship. The new generation. Just a Thought.