Interview with Amy Giunta and Martin Lilja, founder of the gallery Loyal in Stockholm
Loyal is located right in the centre of Stockholm, in a slightly hidden part of Kammakargatan. Operated and directed by Amy Giunta and Martin Lilja, the gallery was founded in 2005 in Stockholm. But it all begun with Loyal Magazine, that was first published in 2000 in London.
You started with a magazine. How did it all happen?
It kind of started at Snappy Snaps, Garrick St, London, in 2000 and in Coffee Republic across the street. We were four friends – Kristian Bengtsson, Martin Lilja, Anna Norlander and Marilyn Petridean. Martin, Marilyn and Anna made music, Marilyn and Anna made art, and Kristian and Anna took photos. We thought it might be good enough to produce it in print. Compiling is a big part of life. Magazines were super important at this time. Index was going strong. Tokion was just starting out.
Our way of storytelling was to organize things in an unexpected order where each building block could be completely unrelated. And we kept it sometimes entirely anonymous who did what. This gave it a feeling of a magazine that could just take you on a ride and without any prestige of the names. There was drawings by Bill Callahan, Rita Ackerman, Graham Coxon, David Shrigley or Devendra Banhart, texts by Fredrik Wenzel and Will Oldham and photos by Stephen Shore. Loyal Magazine didn’t make a lot of sense but it was fun to read.
When have you joined Loyal, Amy?
In summer 2001 I met Martin, Kristian and Anna on a trip to Sweden to visit a Swedish friend from New York. I am from New York where I was a photographer and living on Rivington St. Back then Martin had a band called By Coastal Cafe that made very real great lofi pop songs, he sent me their “7” Båten” which I loved. I had been taking a series of large format photos of the World Trade Centers and had been spending a lot of time with the towers. I guess I was looking to get away and escape the burning metal fumes and the heaviness of that and I saved up to buy a plane ticket to Stockholm to visit him. And yes we were in love. They had done two issues of Loyal Magazine already and we followed that path to continue and expanded our self distributing to New York, biking around to shops with copies in our backpacks. It was a really special time with the early magazine.
What motivated you to open a gallery?
We did Loyal Magazine for 5 years, on the side really, and we had some support from advertising to pay for the printing. Then when Diesel and Absolut didn’t renew their ads we realised this will never really work out. So we came up with an idea to make a book along with an exhibition of original artwork of “book covers” and keep publishing this way. Established Swedish artists Jockum Nordström and Mamma Andersson were in the book – they donated their pieces to the cause, as did Eddie Martinez, Wes Lang, Misaki Kawai, Taylor McKimens and Matt Leines. And that’s kind of how the magazine turned into a gallery.
Also we curated one of V1’s first shows at their gallery in Copenhagen, and we brought artists like Chris Johanson and Jo Jackson, Michelle Abeles, Ashley Macomber, Chris Lindig, Rich Jacobs, Brian Degraw, Wes Lang or Misaki Kawai. This was in February 2004. Jesper Elg (founder of gallery V1) said we simply must open our own gallery in Stockholm and in 2005 Martin, Kristian and I started the gallery.
Stockholm might not be the first place you think of when thinking about young, emerging and international art. Why Stockholm?
We never would have done it knowing what we know today. We were super connected to this small part of the New York art scene. And they were all up for showing with us. But somehow the idea of opening in NY didn’t fit. We had a blast in Stockholm with all our friends, and the magazine was popular, so we opened a space there and people came. It started out so easy. But we wonder what would have been if we opened Loyal in NY 2005. Now we have a million regrets. As the artists got more recognised our location was not an advantage. The cost of flying things over to Stockholm, when you know someone is great, but you know it is just way too early in their career to exhibit that person in Stockholm, because that artist is not even known in NY yet, was a constant issue.
Part of why it worked in Stockholm was that we brought in a new kind of exhibition and openings where it’s usually been more focused on Scandinavian artists. A lot of Swedish artists liked to visit.
Let’s talk about the location. Why did you choose this neighbourhood?
We always like the area around a train station, in any city. They are not that popular anymore. It feels like they used to be the most popular spot of a city. Maybe 80 years ago when they were the center of town. They are less of a hub now. People have cars. They don’t mind suburbs either. We didn’t quite get that close to the station, maybe 5 min away, but it still has that feeling of being slightly forgotten, hidden-in-plain-sight. We also like the neighborhood’s name: Norrmalm.
Please tell us about the program of your gallery and the artists you represent.
Two main events how it started our program. The first one, in the magazine days, maybe 2002, our musician friend John Reineck introduced us to Misaki Kawai who he’d seen selling her drawings on the street on West Broadway when she had first landed in New York from Osaka. We immediately loved her and we were there when she had her first solo show, “The Air Show” at Kenny Schacter in New York. This was the beginning of a lot.
Her boyfriend at the time Taylor McKimens worked for Donald Baechler where he had met Brian Belott who also showed at Kenny Schacter then. From there we met Katherine Bernhardt, Brendan Cass, Melissa Brown, Joe Bradley and Michael Williams – they were all friends. There was a connection to Providence and Fort Thunder and Ara Peterson and Mat Brinkman. Some artists showed at Canada Gallery, others at Deitch Projects. That was one seed.
The second seed was when Alex Wagner from Tokion said she had a friend named Wes Lang who lived in Hoboken. We went over to visit him and he brought out a box of drawings in his bedroom and we just clicked. This was in 2002. We both met Eddie Martinez when Andrew Kuo texted Wes and said to come to meet them at Max Fish and on the way to go see Eddie Martinez. He had rented that impossible storefront upstairs on Rivington next to what is now Schillers, but was an abandoned pharmacy at the time. His drawings were great and we spent our last $30 to buy one. Our third show at the gallery was Wes and Eddie having a solo show in each room.
What happened in Stockholm after that?
So in Stockholm we were bringing these mainly New York artists over for solo shows, sometimes their first, and it grew from there. It was a special time. We were kind of on a roll until we got screwed by this one collector that totally tackled us to the ground. We kept up a good appearance though, didn’t say anything to anyone, but people could tell something was wrong. We were broke and it took us a hell of a lot of work to get back on track – good perseverance.
What do your artists have in common?
Bravery. They really try to do something new. And through both failure and success they maintain their vision. It takes the right touch to make something out of an idea that still feels light and effortless. The artists demand a lot of themselves and of others. It should be a bit frightening in that it shakes you up, though we are not afraid of there being humor in the work. Lighthearted but dead serious?
How does digitalization affect your work as a gallerist?
Two ways, for the viewer consumer digitalization gives an added flow of information. You can browse hundreds of galleries on Instagram. And for now we guess most galleries are excited about this added volume of images. But already with the volume going up, you trade having a lot of viewers for each one looking for a very short time. And then thoughts like making things catchier on a small image comes up, but that’s not what it’s about though really? Like David Lynch said “If you’re playing the movie on a telephone, you will never in a trillion years experience the film. You’ll think you have experienced it, but you’ll be cheated. It’s such a sadness that you think you’ve seen a film on your fucking telephone. Get real.”
More interestingly is how it changed how artists communicate ideas and how fast they spread. This changes how artists work. From being a sole individual, in the studio, working things out on their own – that was the way for hundreds of years – now there’s a participation of artists and ideas, not limited by locale. And the artists who are the best at collaborating with other artists have a leg up.
What are the biggest challenges a gallery must face in its first years?
The first years are the easy ones. That is when everyone is excited because it’s new. It gets harder when it’s not a clean slate anymore and everyone has developed an opinion about you. You need to reinvent yourself as your program develops, and develop the relationships with the artists you started out with.
Who has influenced you as a gallerist?
Early inspirations were the exhibitions we saw at the old Kenny Schacter Contemporary when he was on Charles Lane, NY, the Alicia McCarthy exhibition at Rare Gallery in 2002 when it was on 14th St, NY across the street from The Cooler at the time. And the shows at Leo Koenig’s when he was on Centre St. More recently we have been inspired by the light touch with which our artist Jesse Greenberg operates his gallery 247365 in New York. We love the easy authority they maintain with their shows.
What are your plans for the future?
This spring we have solo exhibitions with Brad Troemel, Jesse Stecklow, Zoe Barcza and Daniel Heidkamp and we will exhibit at Market in Stockholm.
Tuesday to Saturday: 12am–5pm