Matteo Consonni (director of Galeria Madragoa): Ciao Joana! How are you? I noticed that, although your gallery was closing down for the summer, you announced an off-site project in town, while I sent out a newsletter announcing that my gallery would stay open. This makes me think we both live in cities that, if not “central” to the art world, are attracting more and more people at all times of the year. To everyone who asks us why we opened in our respective cities—as I am sure happens a lot to you as well—we should just say “because people are happy to come here,” shouldn’t we?
Joana Roda (director of Bombon Projects): Ciao Matteo! I am fine, thank you. It’s true that we closed in August and, as you mentioned, we did an off-site project at the time. To be honest, the gallery in Barcelona was only partially closed, since the artist working on our next exhibition was living in there as part of her project. We have noticed that people who remain in Barcelona for the summer wish they could escape: the city is hot and many locals are away. A friend had just bought a beach house in the village of Calella de Palafrugell, on the Costa Brava, only an hour and a half away, which was empty awaiting renovation. We had it only for a day, but this made it feel even more special and lots of people confirmed their attendance… You are right, people are happy to come here and Barcelona, just like Lisbon, is always nice to visit. In my case, I decided to open in Barcelona because I’m from here. I lived abroad for a while and wanted to come back and try something new, although everybody said it was crazy. But now we are very happy with the challenge. I think Barcelona is a great city, but a lot of work needs to be done in the arts. How about you? Did you get any catastrophic forecasts before opening your space? Are you thinking about any off-site projects? I read your interview in Umbigo Magazine, where you said, “We do plenty of things abroad, but what we do best, we do here”—and I totally agree!
MC: Of course I got my fair share of doubtful looks when I started to tell people that I was moving from Italy to Portugal to open my own gallery. It was hilarious, I loved seeing the surprise on the faces of friends and colleagues—and in the end, they were partly right… I was taking quite a big risk! The project had been carefully planned with Gonçalo, my Portuguese friend and business partner, but we had no idea how the city and the art world would react. Of course we didn’t open in the middle of nowhere, but in a city that already had an active scene. Still, we tried to shake things up with a different approach and programming. I am sure many people smiled when they saw our microscopic space… I laugh every day as well. What was important for us was to open with a well-defined program—our roster comprised six artists at first, and it’s grown a bit over the past three years—that would give our public an idea of commitment and solidity from the very beginning. It’s interesting what you say about off-site projects. I do believe they are important, since they shake up the format and create new perceptions, as well as allowing gallerists and artists new opportunities, curatorially speaking. For me, the gallery space is THE space—where all our visions are truly developed—but it is a fact that we are constantly on the go, presenting projects here and there, from a gallery swap to a fair. What is your relationship with the ever-criticized art fairs? How do you deal with that format? And what is your relationship with Artissima?
JR: It’s great to hear about your beginnings! I agree, the gallery space is where we have real time to develop our program. When it comes to art fairs, we try to conceive every booth as an exhibition, I think it’s the only way for us to approach them and to keep participating. Being rejected when applying to an art fair is annoying to me because it means we won’t be able to realize the project we’ve been preparing for so long, so sometimes I “save” the project for other occasions, such as future shows at the gallery. Actually, at Artissima we will be showing two artists that are also having a show together at the gallery in October, so in this case, the booth will be kind of an extension of the gallery space. In the end, the projects we present at fairs are exhibitions that will have a bigger audience, so we try to take advantage of this—and, of course, the sales. In Barcelona people aren’t in the habit of going to galleries and buying art, so for us at the moment it is crucial to do art fairs, but we choose very carefully and try not be overwhelmed. My partner Bernat says the people you meet at fairs are often like one night stands: everything happens in the moment, you say great things, there is a lot of interest, you exchange contacts, but after that you never hear from them again. We have to work very hard to build a stronger network of collectors and art professionals in our city. As a viewer, I prefer to see art in a gallery space, have the chance to meet the artists and talk about projects; you feel less rushed and overwhelmed. This will be our first time at Artissima, but it’s an art fair that we’ve been following and that we like a lot. Some galleries that we know well and like have done it, and we’ve heard good things from them. What about you? How do you plan your participation in art fairs and how do you approach them?
MC: Art fairs…of course everybody says they hate them, but I have to admit I enjoy the atmosphere around them. I just wish they weren’t so big, or distracting for the public, so every good presentation could get the attention it deserves. That’s what art fairs should invest in. Our approach is always to try and have a coherent project, without forgetting that we are showing in a commercially-driven environment where one needs to invest in quality as much as desire—a fundamental engine for the arts! What has been important for us in these past years is that by participating in art fairs, we have managed to create a traveling public that then comes to visit the gallery in Lisbon. I basically grew up in a professional sense at Artissima, having lived in Turin for six years while working at Galleria Franco Noero. It was my first art fair, in 2007, and I got to see many editions from a privileged point of view. It’s been a great training ground for me, and I am happy to keep going there in a different role.
JR: I’ve really enjoyed our exchange on how to approach art fairs. I look forward to seeing you in Torino—this will be our first time in Italy and we are excited to be there. Let’s see how it goes!