"From Humble Indie Roots" – Maureen Paley

Despite the American gallerist's position at the top of London's art world pantheon, Maureen Paley has not forgotten her gallery's roots as a project space in East London.

Shadow Portrait, Courtesy of Maureen Paley, London

There are few gallerists globally more renown than Maureen Paley. However, while she might be best known now for representing multiple Turner Prize winners, she herself remains humble and gracious, more interested in art than artifice. My brief time with Maureen has been echoed by others: even gallerists who are due to appear in this interview series cite Maureen as a both an inspiration and mentor. With this in mind, the interview below was a great pleasure not only for the ease of conversation, but for the opportunity to inhabit a love of art that Paley always makes capacious enough for those around her to effortlessly join her in.

Jacob Barnes: What were your entry points to the London art world? What happened between 1977 and 1984 when you began your program as Interim Art?

Maureen Paley: I came to London in 1977 and attended the Royal College of Art from 1978-80. During that time and in the three years leading up to the formation of the Interim Art project space, I was hanging out in what was the punk and post-punk club and music scene. I also travelled back and forth to New York and was inspired by many of the emerging new gallery spaces in the Lower-East Side there that gave me the idea to take some of their energy back to London's East End and open up a space here.

JB: What were the core tenets of your gallery when you started? What was it that you wanted to do differently than the rest of the scene” and how did you go about actualising those intentions? Have the goalposts shifted as youve grown?

MP: In the beginning, my space was meant to be “temporary” and there was no intention to “represent” artists. This meant I could show a range of work and be open to experimentation. Following on from the punk DIY music connection -– I began in a renovated, derelict house that meant art could be shown in the downstairs rooms in much the same way that recordings could be made at home and broadcast the same week with John Peel, reaching a wider audience than just one’s close friends.

I opened to the public in 1984 and the space has evolved organically since then. By the early nineties I was representing artists like Wolfgang Tillmans and Gillian Wearing, who I work with to this day. However I am grateful for my indie roots and the chances I had in a less structured art world to introduce “one-off” projects. Most memorable were those with Charlie Ray, Fischli Weiss, and Christian Marclay. By 2000 I had moved to my Herald Street space and gave a solo show “The Agony and the Ecstasy” to Rebecca Warren, who I then began – and continue – to represent. I am adding artists to the programme to this day. I am also pleased we have been able, from my humble indie roots, to extend to our three current locations at 60 Three Colts Lane E2, Studio M in Shoreditch, London and Morena di Luna in Hove.

Gillian Wearing, Lockdown exhibition view: Maureen Paley, London, 2020
© Gillian Wearing, courtesy Maureen Paley, London

JB: How have you seen the London art world shift over your time in the industry, and where do you think its going?

MP: The London art world has had international exchange at various points in its history that has been significant. There were fewer galleries when I began and the scene has greatly expanded, becoming younger and more inclusive with many more spaces for artists to be part of and show in. The international focus has allowed for artists’ work to travel, be shared abroad, and extend the discussion beyond just a London/UK focus. I have always encouraged and applauded this, and am happy to witness and participate in it. I do hope that this continues with the immediate challenges we face due to the pandemic and Brexit.

JB: What do you see to be the biggest achievement of your career to date?

MP: Surviving many decades of dedicated work. Artists I have worked with over time gaining deserved recognition from a wider consensus in the art world – having believed in them from the very beginning.

Jacob Barnes

is a writer and editor born in New York, raised in Dublin, Ireland, and currently living in London. After working in the film industry, he decided to start Soft Punk with Charlie in the summer of 2019. Since then, Jacob has worked as a writer, editor, publisher, and curator for numerous publications and organizations spanning the United States and Europe.

All contributions from Jacob Barnes

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