Mauger Modern Gallery has had a powerful presence in art fairs all over the globe for the last two years, which is a feat for a relatively new gallery. Their roster of quirky artists- from Geza Szollosi’s inflated cow heads and ironic prayer rugs to Erik Sandberg’s paintings of hairy children, have gained them attention in the extremely competitive world of contemporary art galleries. The man behind the gallery, Richard Mauger, has asserted himself into the art world by taking bold risks- like participating in several art fairs a year (and arduous and tiresome process). Most recently, he took the biggest risk of all, moving his gallery from small town Bath to the big leagues- London. It’s risky business in the times of a world wide recession, where people are struggling to feed their families, rather than buy art. But Mauger is going for it, and thanking the recession as part of his journey to the top.
Lori Zimmer: You’ve done the unthinkable in a recession- moved your gallery from the quaint town of Bath, UK to full on London. Are you crazy?
Richard Mauger: I do feel a bit crazy at the moment. I’m bouncing between Bath and London – running the last shows in Bath and working on the new projects in the big city for the rest of the year and beyond. Although the recession hit the art world hard last year, I kind of have it to thank for the new London space – all the talk of how awful it was going to be for galleries, the muttering of closures & downsizing inspired a reaction in me to step on the gas, do more fairs than normal, spend more on promotion and be more focused in upping the gallery’s profile. I’m not advocating this generally, as a sensible method to deal with an economic crisis, but the knee-jerk, in a convoluted way led to a double page spread on the gallery in the Financial Times weekend section, which then led to an offer of a space in London. It sounds strange to say it now, but if it wasn’t for the recession, I wouldn’t have upsized nearly so quickly.
LZ: And why will this new gallery stand out from the rest?
RM: I know this is an improbable fantasy but I want all exhibitions we run to carry an element of surprise and a feel of freshness about them. I’m working with some extremely exciting, talented artists who are all challenging themselves every day in what they make, and the reasons for doing what they do. If we manage to pull off a stream of exhibitions that have this spirit about them the gallery will get some attention, for all the right reasons.
LZ: How did you get into the art dealing business anyway, weren’t you some sort of professional raver previously?
RM: I did run a regular acid night back in the late 80′s yes, good/crazy old days but now I prefer the more satisfying kick of an opening reception evening and a successful show. I’ve always hovered around the arts in some shape or form and years ago decided that opening a gallery was the way forward (see answer number 8). Starting out is always much harder than you think, and If I’d known all about the harsh realities (of question number 9) I’m not sure what I’d have done in retrospect. I’m happy I was blissfully unaware at the time though, or I might well have not got this far!
LZ: You’ve participated in a number of art fairs- do you think this is the wave of the future?
RM: If you don’t do the fairs, you have to be tenacious, lucky and in many ways, downright devious to get the attention that attending a such a huge-scale event will give you – so fairs are essential to introduce your artist’s work to more collectors, and also to keep up on what the international scene is doing. I really feel that having a pied-a-terre, a shop front is still important though. It gives clients a place to visit and gives the gallerist an opportunity to gather ideas, and show a more cohesive body of work whenever he or she wants. Saying that, some galleries do a great job without having a shop front, working the fairs and hiring show specific venues as and when they need them. That may well be another wave of the future and and a clever, more streamlined way of working to consider.
LZ: How would you describe your program? What attracts you to the artists that you show?
RM: I love artists who make work that teeters on the edge of conceptual and commercial. Life’s short and it’s hugely important to like who you’re working with so I tend gravitate to those artists who I can laugh and get on with. As far as a program, it’s all in development right now – there are already exhibitions planned for this and next year but I don’t want to plan too far ahead – I want there to be time to allow more influences in.
LZ: Now that you’re in London, do you see the gallery changing or evolving in any way?
RM: Since the beginning of this gallery I’ve always had a feeling that the key to its success would be to make as many people benefit from the organization as possible. Gathering teams of like-minded people will I think, I hope, shape the evolution, form the direction and generally lead to a lot more unexpected free-styling fun for all involved. Of course, I’m always open to offers and collaborations and if someone has a 100,000 square metre warehouse space in the middle of Soho they’re not using, I’m interested in having a look at it.
LZ: What are some of your favorite galleries to visit?
RM: Unfortunately because I’ve been knee-deep in the art fair circuit for years, most of the galleries and gallerists I’ve liked have been in a whitewashed booth sitting on rented chairs. I’m looking forward to getting some time in the near future to visit their bricks & mortar.
Admin. Lack of time. Unexplainable damage to frames in transit.
LZ: If you weren’t running a gallery, what would Richard do?
RM: That’s a tough one, I’ve had a few incarnations in my time and this is by far suits me the best. I love the idea of making art but my short attention span makes that unlikely. If I had unlimited choice I’d like to go on a career taster course lasting about 10 years covering everything except dentistry. Then I’d probably open another gallery.