Gallery talks: Art Interview with Michael Xuereb
Ever since I started writing these gallery conversations, I’ve been keeping a little list with potential galleries I come across that could make an interesting chat. Top of the list for a while has been Mauger Modern Art.
The interview turned out to be one of the most pleasant conversations about art that I ever had. The gallery owner is Richard Mauger. A very approachable, enthusiastic and down to earth person that is well connected with the artists and the artwork that he represents.
Were you ever an artist?
I’ve made work in the past but I found it too stressful!
...more then being a gallery owner?
[laughs] I think it was actually, yeah. It doesn’t feel like it right now, because I have two galleries running at the moment, art fairs to prepare for and a house to sell! and an apartment to buy! So I do feel a bit stressed at the moment, but, essentially, I do remember feeling very stressed as an artist. It was a kind of stress I didn’t like.
I picked up the title of the gallery “...Modern Art”. If you could go back in time to when you were deciding what to name your gallery - would you have still called it Mauger “Modern Art”?
Good question. After about a year of the opening I looked at the work that I was selling and thought that maybe it should have been called “Mauger Contemporary”. But then I looked up the definitive definition of ‘modern’ and it still fits. I know ‘modern’ can be used in a classical sense but it can also mean ‘of its time’.
Yes the word ‘modern’ can be interpreted very differently. It can be the Impressionists, it can be Picasso and it can be the works produced today.
Very true. Also the word ‘contemporaries’ is a bit long, and I don’t think it sounds as good as ‘Modern’. Perhaps we’ll end up just calling the gallery ‘Mauger’. Which is an option.
In your opinion, and with the experience you have from the kind of art you trade, is there a difference between Pop Art and Kitsch Art?
I don’t like the word kitsch. It sounds ‘throw away’. Which in fact if it’s used to describe certain artwork, maybe it’s correct. But Pop Art is by far the preferable term. It’s short for Popular isn’t it?
Yes, and current. I looked up the dictionary term for kitsch. It reads “art, objects, or design considered to be poor in taste because of excessive garishness [Richard laughs] or sentimentality, BUT sometimes appreciated in an ironic or knowing way”
True, that’s true. But I’d rather if people appreciated art for its own sake and not for the irony contained in it.
Taking up on that, there are a number of works that you represent that contain pre-existing imagery. Such as brands, the iconic smiley face and I also see superman in one of the works. There must be something that makes you interested in the irony in that. What makes irony clever? Can it be elitist?
I think my interest is in altering these things and altering people’s reactions to an already established image. If it can do that, people find themselves waking up slightly to what they normally would walk past and think they understand with one glance. Some of the pieces are intended to make people think a little bit more. This may start to sound a bit grim but none of the work here [at the gallery] are dark. I always like to see an element or a hint of humour, but this is not always possible.
Lets talk art fairs - Do you enjoy participating in art fairs, or is it something that you dread doing, and only do it not to be left out?
I hate being left out! [laughs] especially in art fairs - good art fairs that is. Well, do I like them? I hate them and I love them.
What do you hate about them? What do you love about them?
I hate standing for hours, I hate being at the edge of exhaustion and still having to smile. And if a fair isn’t selling as much as we like... I’d rather go home!
...but do you feel that it would be better if art fairs didn’t exist, and art buyers visited galleries whenever they wanted to see and buy art?
I think they are essential. It’s like having a large supermarket with a lot of corner stores inside it. It makes sense as a collector that’s interested at a particular gallery to see the gallery at a fair, where there’s another hundred other galleries. If you’re looking to find a piece of work, why not go where there’s a hundred galleries at the same time - it makes total sense.
Do you think that art fairs increase interest in art in the community?
The sheer strong armed hard-hitting PR power of the big fairs can’t but help increase awareness of art. So that’s a good thing. But when the fair disappears, then what you’re left with is the galleries. And if the galleries aren’t showing stimulating, risky and quality work, I don’t think that would be very helpful to the art and the art community. But we live in London, and in London there are weekly, even daily, exhibitions. Some commercially orientated others just doing it for the hell of it. And they all go hand in hand. Galleries need art fairs and art fairs need galleries. What I love about art fairs is the ability to meet collectors that I wouldn’t meet normally, and meet other galleries' collectors - which is what everybody loves - and hates!
What’s the next art fair you’ll be participating in?
Our next showing is in a fair in Korea called KIAF. That would be the first time we do a fair in Asia.
Have you curated the booth yet?
I’ve chosen four artists and I may sneak another seven artists in the back - in the naughty cupboard! We’re having 2 stuffed cow heads by Géza Szöllősi. I recommend checking out his website - unbelievable work! He’s in his thirties. We’ll be taking Manolo Chretien’s nose cones and some paintings by Erik Sandberg, he’s from LA.
Final question. As a gallery director, how is you relationship with your artists? Many say that it can be awkward - a kind of friends, but not friends. A kind of relationship you would have with your drug dealer!
[laughs] It may have been a little like that when I started the gallery, but more and more I seem to be working with friends, artists who became friends. Or if not friends, it’s people who I get along with very well. Before I really understood the dynamics between artist and gallerist, I remember seeing an interview at Frieze on YouTube, someone was interviewing a gallerist and asked him “who are you showing?” waiting for some big names, and the gallerist told him “I’m just showing my friends.” And I really liked that. I’m glad to say that it seems it’s something that I’m naturally gravitating to.
MAUGER MODERN ART
81 Rochester Row, London SW1P 1LJ
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Previous Gallery Interviews:
1. Gallery Talk: Riflemaker Gallery
2. Gallery Talk: Thomas Dane Gallery
3. Gallery Talk: Mummery +Schnelle Gallery
4. Gallery Talk: Hannah Barry Gallery