Gallery owner Sadie Coles: ‘I don’t think digital will replace art or objects’ | Art
After studying art history at Middlesex University, Sadie Coles, 59, worked at Bristol’s Arnolfini, then at the Anthony d’Offay gallery where she specialized in young artists like Sarah Lucas and Grayson Perry. In 1997, she created her influential gallery, Sadie Coles HQ, in the West End of London. Artists she represents include Lucas, John Currin, Helen Marten and Alvaro Barrington. Last year she received an OBE for her services to art.
How has Brexit affected your business?
What is interesting is the perception that he [trade] will be more difficult. Post-Brexit, London is still a world-class city and still performs brilliantly in terms of location, language and time. So I feel like there is going to be a painful period where people will realize that the barriers they imagined don’t actually exist. A little correction will be a good thing because it will inspire everyone to try harder, to rethink things, to be a little more creative.
How do you decide to work with an artist?
I see something that makes me curious. Work that does something original and moves the needle. I ask other artists who they like or who they watch. Or critics or museum people. I see a lot of shows, so the lockdown was pretty tough because it was two years without travelling, which meant you were watching shows digitally rather than in real life.
have you decide to work with someone based on something you’ve only seen online?
No. I always want to see things and talk to the artist. Go stand in their studio. I want to feel their passion for what they do. When you set up a program for your gallery, it cannot be a monoculture. You want to reflect the world, and the world is changing all the time. Art has become politicized over the past two or three years because the issues we face have changed and our anxieties have increased.
You say “more political”, are there others punches?
Artists are using new mediums and platforms to make art, and NFTs [non-fungible tokens] are an example of this, although I personally think the name is a red herring. We should say “digital art” because it’s just a new medium that artists are using through a new technology, the blockchain. So it’s a change, but a lot of ways of communicating have changed. Obviously during lockdown there has been a boom in the number of people viewing and buying art digitally. But it had always happened. People were buying art on Jpegs before the lockdown. The biggest revolution of my entire career as an art dealer has been the Internet, because when I started working for Anthony d’Offay there was no fax machine, there was no World Wide Web . The fact that you can reach a global audience from your desktop has transformed the art market into this open and recently democratized market.
Are there parameters of what an NFT can and can’t be or does it just exist as a digital thing?
We are at the very beginning of where digital art can live and be collected and what artists are doing with it as a medium. There will be great developments and innovations that will affect the content and come from the medium.
So it’s defined right now?
Great art is great art, so if an artist does something really interesting in a digital form, to me, that’s just as exciting as someone doing a great painting.
Your first gallery was on Hedon Streetright next to where Ziggy Stardust the sleeve was knocked down. Was the K.West sign still there? Yes, when I first opened.
And did you see people coming to pose?
A lot of tourists. The phone booth is still there so you always have people taking pictures. When David Bowie died, there was a huge pile of flowers – Princess Diana style – on the street where the sign should have been.
Has it ever come to your gallery?
He came to the first Sarah Lucas show that we did as what is now called a pop-up, in a warehouse in St John Street. He came with Charles Saatchi and he was really interested in all the energy of the YBA group at that time. He invited us all to a concert, I remember.
Was there a particular work of art that made you realize you wanted to be a gallery owner?
One of the first objects that piqued my interest was Tutankhamun’s mask. I was around 10 years old. We waited in line for six hours to get in and there was this feeling of anticipation and excitement and then this dark tunnel, which replicated entering the pyramids. And then the bright blue and gold stuff at the bottom – I was kind of like, “Ooh aah, this is what I want in my life!”
We met when Pulp asked to use reproductions of John Currin paintings in the video for Help the elderly – Have you been reluctant to allow the use of an artist’s work in a pop video?
No, because the synergy between John’s work and your vision was perfect. There was this kind of sleazy around Pulp at that time. For example, I really like this song Underwear and it couldn’t be closer to John’s singular vision.
I also liked how undogmatic you were about making replicas of the paintings, if you remember. They are still in the Rough Trade office, very faded, as I recently passed by and saw them. But you agreed that we didn’t have to borrow the artwork to put in the country house for the video. John was enthusiastic about your music. There was a lot shared, so it was good, and you remained great friends.
What is the IGA (International Galleries Alliance) initiative that you have just launched?
He came out of confinement. There was this feeling, that everyone felt, of the unknown and how to negotiate it. And then it became a more conceptual question of what the future will be for the art world and how can we come together to be stronger. There are now 260 members worldwide.
I hope some of the collegial collaboration and communication that took place during the lockdown will continue. I think isolation has made real-world experiences—walking in a park, for example—much more desirable than they used to be. In many ways, the fact that we are so digitally saturated means that real-world experiences are more valuable than ever.
There’s always this misunderstanding that advancements in technology will kill the thing in front of them, but they often make that thing better. So I don’t think digital will replace art or objects or IRL experiences.
We’re not all going to have to live in the metaverse for the rest of our lives.?
Nope! A person’s experience in the metaverse may well lead you to the actual experience or vice versa – that’s an improvement I guess, that’s how I see it.