Page 03BUSINESSART | AUGUST 2010 ART LEADER PROFILE
Hazel FriedmanIf sport is the opiate of the masses then culture is their social currency.And if there are any lessons to be learnt from football, it is that the teamwhich cannot adapt, falls; and that one must always keep an eye on theball. So what does this Fifa-esque homily have to do with the successfuloperation of an art gallery? On a prima facie basis, not much, apart fromhe fact that at the Everard Read Gallery in Cape Town the polite tones
so typical of the sanctied art spaces are being violated by the collective
rumpet of the vuvuzela brigade outside.hese unexpected punctuation marks in the otherwise staid syntax of theart gallery provide the Cape Town ER with a refreshingly serendipitous
identity. And in the fteen years that the Cape Town gallery has been
open for business, the art of dribbling and handling curved balls areskills Charles Shields and David Tripp have obviously acquired.
Launched in September 1996, the gallery was established as a satel
-lite version of its Johannesburg counterpart — occupying a small shop
window at the V&A Waterfront.“We were little more than a cave,” recalls Shields. “We had no pristine
white cube in which to work, no mailing list. And, quite frankly, our com-petitors were cynical about our chances of success.”Adds Tripp: “The art world in Cape Town was much more parochial and
conservative than it is now. But despite the odds, by 1999, when we
moved to our current premises, we had evolved from shop window modeinto a dynamic art destination with a separate identity and life of its own.”
Bordering the V&A Waterfront, in Portswood Road, the gallery still
maintains a synergy with the Johannesburg ER, while embracing themotley constituencies of tourists thronging the area and a client-base thatincludes blue chip collectors.
“We provide a niche service to a buying public who enjoy coming hereand like what we do. These collectors sustain the gallery. We also try to
demystify the aloof, sometimes alienating environment of the art galleryby making it accessible to everyone and encouraging visitors to feelcomfortable in the space.”“Make no mistake,” cautions Tripp, “art buyers are generally sophisti-cated creatures with their own opinions, who choose to be guided by our
authority. We adopt a temperate, measured approach, providing a gauge
of what the market will pay. “
hile the Cape Town ER’s principal mandate of showcasing gurative
contemporary art hasn’t shifted, Tripp and Shields don’t suffer from riskaversion when it comes to artists they believe in. Although they “inherited”a substantial stable of established and emerging contemporary artists,hey are always seeking new talent.
“We look at images all day” says Tripp. “We hate to discourage any artist
who crosses our threshold, even those whose work we cannot exhibit. “
Adds Shields: “Both of us have an emotional response to the art. We
want to be moved by great work and move others in turn. And we will goout on a limb for artists in whom we believe, even if they are commer-cially risky.”Included on their belt of recent risky ventures are curated shows like
he quirkily titled ‘Sex, Power, Money’ — a satirical riposte against the
excessive consumption that precipitated the global economic recession.
he exhibition’s press release reads: If ‘Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n Roll’ typiedhe 60s and 70s, then it is fair to say that more recent decades will beremembered as the time of ‘Sex, Power & Money’.”
Despite a bearish economy Sex, Power and Money enjoyed a bullishresponse.“The show reinforced the fact that in a recession we have to surviveon the success of local sales”, says Tripp, “and that our sustainabilitydepends on our ability to adapt to the times.”And nowhere is the symbiosis between art and economy more delicatelynegotiated than through the complex relationship between art-makers— the artists — clients and the intermediaries who close the deals.
“We stock a wide repertoire of artists and works because our clients’
astes change,” explains Shields, “and as dealers we have to be more
uid than traditional gallerists. We don’t simply market exhibiting artists
but constantly seek out and showcase individual works by both new andestablished names - even those who do not exhibit regularly.”He adds: “The relationship between the artist and dealer is tantamount toa marriage and it is predicated on compromise and sometimesserendipity.” The marriage metaphor is apt because, while they mightnot exactly complete each other’s sentences, the synergy between Trippand Shields is unmistakable. Theirs is clearly a partnership spawned in
gallerists’ heaven. They jokingly refer to themselves as Laurel and Hardyand share an ofce, probably spending more time together than with their
respective spouses.Tripp is the gregarious, jocular corporate lawyer-turned-dealer,while Shields earned his art stripes by literally licking stamps for exhibitioninvitations at the Joburg Everard Read, and trawling the townships insearch of undiscovered talent. Tripp provides business acumen; Shieldsan impressive understanding of art history.
“We’ve had occasional disagreements but generally we’re pretty much in
sync in our choices and vision for the gallery, Tripp insists. “This is a no-ego zone and neither of our names will ever be exclusively on the door.” Adds Shields: “ There is no single model for success. But doing it rightentails attaining a balance between diplomacy and guidance,
mollycoddling and maintaining a rm grip on artistic reins.”
Not to mention juggling, dribbling and catching curved balls.
Charles Shields and David Tripp
Cape Town’s Everard Read Gallery
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David Tripp and Charles Shields at their Cape Town Everard Read Gallery Photo: Jenny Altschuler