Interview with Pedro Maisterra and Belén Valbuena, founder of the gallery Maisterravalbuena in Madrid and Lisbon
With the opening of a second space in Portugal in mid May, Maisterravalbuena has expanded not only from Madrid to Lisbon but also aims to create a network between these two art scenes. Here the two gallerists explain why Belén Valbuena moved to Lisbon and why it is important to make thousands of little decisions thoughtfully.
You just opened a new space in Lisbon. Tell us more about this and about your motivation to run a space in another town in another country.
We had been thinking about open a second space outside Spain for three years. We thought that would help to develop our program in a more dynamic way and would allow us to undertake projects that could enrich the gallery’s program and open a more complex dialogue between the gallery’s artists.
In 2014 we started looking for a new location in Latin America but realized that logistically would be difficult to run two spaces so far away geographically. It was then when we started to consider Lisbon and we realized that even though Spain and Portugal share a similar culture and geographically belonged to the same piece of land, the Iberian Peninsula. There was not much connection between their two art scenes. That thought was the trigger to finally making the decision of open a gallery in Lisbon to create more permeability between these two scenes.
We were also clear that the role of our space in Lisbon should have the same protagonist as the one in Madrid. That’s why it was a tough decision as in order to do so half of us would have to move to Lisbon. Now Belen has lived here since September.
When did you start the gallery in Madrid?
We founded our gallery in Madrid in 2007. Our first space was quite small. For us the most important thing was to have the best context for our artists to be known by visitors and collectors, and we thought that being in the neighborhood Doctor Fourquet right next to Reina Sofia museum was the right place to be. Since 2012 the area has become a thriving cultural spot as a large number of galleries moved there.
What inspired you to run a gallery together?
What interested us was working with artists in a long term situation and helping to build their careers. We thought that the perfect formula to achieve that was opening a gallery. Ten years later we have no regrets at all.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
Belen Valbuena: I studied Art History in Salamanca and then went to Madrid to do a Masters in Museography and Exhibitions. After that I worked in other galleries for some years until we decided to open ours.
Pedro Maisterra: I studied History in Pamplona, my hometown. Then I left my city when I was 24 and I did a MPhil in London. It was there that I got in direct contact for first time with contemporary art and immediately knew that want to be part of it, but didn’t know yet in what way. From London I went to Madrid and started working in a gallery. That experience was key to understanding what a gallery could do for artists, in particular at the beginning of their careers.
How would you characterize the artists you work with? How are the artists you represent are connected?
We think that the main connection between our artists is that they do what they really believe in. Although we can have our particular vision about art, we didn’t want to follow a concrete line. For us it would have been created an artificial coherence to our project. We believe that a gallery program doesn’t have to be about forging a unique identity, as art is beyond those boundaries. We think the context of good art has to be eclectic.
How do you decide to add a new artist?
All those decisions have been different from one to the next as we don’t follow any particular patron or strategy when proposing to a new artist a working relationship. Also we believe that there are many ways of working and collaborating together and that it takes time for a collaboration to develop. We are aware that rushing into it is not good and we try to avoid urgency in taking those decisions so that we don’t don’t fall into trends meant for the acceleration and homogenization of the market.
What has been the biggest challenge in opening and running your own gallery?
The biggest challenge was and still is, to maintain economically stable the programme that we believe in. A gallery only can really help an artist if its financial situation is strong enough, otherwise it would fail in its mission, not to mention the intellectual compromise you can have with the artist’s work.
Is there someone who has particularly influenced you?
Many people. It is difficult to single out one in particular. We always have been motivated by people who without making much noise are doing exciting and solid projects locally that contribute to the spread of culture.
What is the role of a gallery today, and how is it changing from the past?
We think a gallery today more than ever has to be a solid platform to allow artists to materialize their projects. That’s why galleries now are more concentrated on helping to realize those projects. And that’s why that more than ever the figure of the collector is so important for supporting artists and galleries in the beginning of their careers.
And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?
We think that we will be doing the same things but hopefully with more experience and a more knowledgeable eye. We conceive the gallery’s activity as a day to day process. We could achieve a great deal in our new space in Lisbon by working hard and with a lot of attention to detail.
So, in this sense, without knowing exactly where we can be in a decade, we know that it will be a consequence of thousands of little decisions made without rushing and no big drama.
Maisterravalbuena takes part in Granpalazzo on May 27th-28th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Antonio Ballester Moreno.
Maisterravalbuena takes part in Liste–Art Fair Basel from June 13th to 18th, 2017. The gallery will present a selection of works by Antonio Ballester Moreno and Maria Loboda.
Monday to Friday: 10 am–7 pm
Saturday: 11 am–2:30 pm
Tuesday to Saturday: 10 am–7 pm