Interview with Hannah Robinson, founder of the gallery Mary, Mary in Glasgow
While still in art school, Hannah Robinson begun to organize exhibitions, later she was running a project space in her apartment. So it has been a pretty organic decision to open the gallery in 2006. Since than she works in Glasgow where the gallery is located, to support her artists in exhibitions and at fairs all over the art world.
What brought you into contemporary art in the first place? What is your background?
I went to Glasgow School of Art and studied painting, so that was my main introduction in to this world I guess. Whilst at art school, I organised with my peers, exhibitions in our apartments, mostly of each others’ work and friends. It became really clear to me during this process, that it was the curating, organising of shows and discussing other peoples’ works, that I much prefered to making work myself. From talking to other people and how they felt about making work, their need and drive to do so, I knew compared to them I didnt have it in me to be an artist!
Having left art school, I continued to present exhibitions in my flat, though these now became more ambitious and more curated, in the sense that I was asking people to do shows outside of my immediate circle, artists from London and Europe. During this time I also worked at “The Modern Institute”, which had an important affect on me and how I felt about what it meant to have a gallery, how that functioned and how to talk about, promote, manage and sell work.
When have you founded your gallery, and what has inspired you to open your own gallery?
It was a pretty organic experience deciding to open the gallery – from having the project space in my apartment, a few of the artist said that if I decided to open a space, they would work with me, so that was sort of a catalyst in my thinking. I also wanted something which would allow me to continue the relationships I had forged, the experiences of working with artists in this way – the space in my flat was great to do but each experience was transient – we did the show and that was it and I wanted to elongate that relationsip and opening a representing gallery felt the best way to do that. I didnt think so heavily about it – it was quite a naive, organic decision! I opened in April 2006.
How do you see the role of a gallery today?
I fundamentally believe galleries are (beside from artists obviously!) the most important part of the art world. Without their structure, support and organisation and financial support not only of their artists, but also increasingly the production of museum shows and publications, the art world would not function in the way it does.
The role of the gallery is changing of course and I think there are things that need addressing within that, especially the feeling of reliance on art fairs and how powerful they have become and the role of the mega gallery model and how this affects smaller and mid level galleries and the pressures and expectations placed on them.
Where does the name of your gallery come from?
The gallery is named after the novelist, Mary Shelley and her mother, the feminist writer and activist, Mary Wollstonecraft.
Tell us about your program. What connects the artists you represent?
Thats so hard to say – I think I am maybe too close to it to judge! I am sure from the outside there are very obvious connections, but I am not really sure I see them all as I am working with each artist individually mainly.
I suppose I have a very strong response to material and so as a result the programme is not massively conceptual – I find it really hard to pin it down though – each artist is doing their own, individual thing and I would not want to bracket them really.
And how do you decide adding a new artist?
How I decide to add a new artist has changed somewhat since I opened. I think now I am much more aware of the programme as a whole and how things fit together and connect, but fundamentally its the same decision making which is based on mainly an intuitive response to the work – I dont really have any rules that I follow, its really just about loving the work and how the artist talks and relates to their practice and a feeling that the work has an importance and a longevity.
What does it mean to run a contemporary art gallery in Glasgow? What are the limits and what are the possibilities?
Glasgow is a city of artists, not galleries or curators really – the artists far outnumber any other part of the artworld that is here. I think that is what is important about it and why such great work is made here – the emphasis is on the studio and peer to peer conversation and not who shows with whom or who sold what and I think thats a good mix.
So having a gallery here means that you have to travel a lot and you have to do fairs in order to keep in touch with people, but increasingly I think this is the same for everyone as we all work so internationally now and far less collectors see the shows anywhere now as we are all so reliant on the experience of seeing works in fairs or as jpegs. You can really have a gallery anywhere now I think.
So obviously there are limits in the sense, I very rarely sell from someone coming in to the gallery but its cheaper to have a space here and I can organise shows without thinking solely about whether they will sell out and pay my rent and I think as a result I have been able to do shows that I have been really happy about that I would not have been able to do elsewhere.
What is one gallery exhibition or project that you are especially proud of?
So hard to pin that down and I wouldnt want to pin down a favourite. I suppose though some of the ones I am most proud of are those that the artist and I have really enjoyed doing, that we have managed to do exactly what we set out to, I guess.
I also really enjoy the ones with artists I have worked with and known since the beginning too because we have grown up together really and every show is a sign of that growth and understanding of each other and mutual respect. I couldnt give a definitive answer though as I am proud of all of them because they have all brought something to the gallery and to my experience and understanding of what I do.
And finally, how do you see your gallery in a decade?
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