Sadie Coles: An Interview
While working for the distinguished art trader Anthony D'Offay, she was already widely known. But since she opened Sadie Coles['] HQ in London's Heddon Street the British gallery-owner Sadie Coles has become a star of the international art scene. Apart from young British artists like Sarah Lucas she also promotes contemporary American art and organises "Gallery Swaps" every summer, exchanging her exhibits with an important gallery in another country. For two years now Coles advises the Deutsche Bank with her expertise in international young art. db-art.info met up with Coles to ask her what actually happens behind closed doors when the curators gather to select new acquisitions for the collection.
Let’s start with your gallery: how would
you describe your programme?
It’s international. When I opened
I deliberately programmed it to have an international rather than a British
profile, and my choice of artists reflects this: from Richard
Prince to Sarah
Lucas to Urs
How did you get to know the Deutsche Bank curators
Ariane Grigoteit, Friedhelm Hütte, and Britta Färber?
looking for a new international advisor, and they’d visited a lot of galleries.
They came to London and saw maybe ten galleries in one day. Then they rang
up and asked if they could come by and have a meeting with me. But I really
didn’t know what it was all about. They just came and asked me to talk
a bit about my programme and the artists I represent. So I showed them
a lot of material, on transparencies, in catalogues and the like – and
then, at the end of the meeting... we were just laughing a lot! The next
day, they rang up and said that they wanted me to help them widen their
do you think they asked you to join their team?
They liked my
jokes, I guess (laughs). I think it was because they wanted somebody who
wasn’t too local, somebody who was seeing a lot of stuff internationally
– not only British artists, but European artists, Asian and American artists,
and particularly West Coast, because they knew I’d been doing a lot with
the United States and especially Los Angeles. They were really interested
in that. And they liked the broad scope of the artists I show. And also,
I suppose, because the bank had merged with a big American bank, Bankers
Trust. Maybe they particularly wanted to expand the collection into American
art. They knew I’m well informed in this area and have contacts with other
international galleries. They obviously have an amazing German collection,
so they didn’t need somebody who was an expert here.
your involvement with the American art scene actually begin?
just spent a lot of time looking at art in both New York and Los Angeles.
N.Y. and L.A. are very different – and therefore produce a different kind
of artist. When I opened the gallery, there was a whole generation of people:
Owens, and others who weren’t showing their work in London.
you see a similar artistic approach connecting the scenes in London and
L.A., and what are the differences?
The similarities are the
dominance of the art schools, a relatively new art market, and that museums
and art schools are more dominant than the market is. The differences are
that London, for one, obviously has more of an infrastructure for an international
market and a longer history of art trading. It’s more developed, but can
also be more crass. Rent, space, and materials are cheaper in L.A., and
so you tend to see artists making more ambitious projects. Also, L.A. has
this great tradition of artists who continue teaching: Charlie
Ray, John Baldessari,
Kelley for instance, which is an amazing thing for young students.
We don’t really have that situation in London – Damien
Hirst and Co. don’t teach.
When you think back to the beginning
of your collaboration with the Deutsche Bank, what was your first impression
of the collection? Do you have a special affinity for German modernist
No, not particularly. But I have to say that when
I had a look at the building in Frankfurt, I thought that the collection
had some amazingly impressive German material from the early 60s: its scale
and the focus on works on paper are sensible and have helped define the
The bank’s commitment since the 50s is astounding, and it’s
this longevity, together with the fact that the purchasing has been left
up to the art historians and not board approval that have given it such
quality. I don’t believe in local classifications, but I like German painting
from the 60s because of its brave interpretation of the post-war relationship
to American and Pop Art and the impact of photography. They have some amazing
things, for instance a really early series of drawings by Polke.
And there are a lot of works that were bought in this period of German
eighties painting – masses of Dokoupil
and all those people…
Would you say you’re particularly fond
of this period of German painting?
Look, if you’d asked me before
I went, I would have said “No,” but when I actually looked at some of these
works on paper, I really did like them. There are some really good things
amongst all of those painters of that period.
So you can deal
with the basic structure of the collection?
Yes, I can. And
I like the fact that the curators are very keen to buy younger things.
They really want to start early with an artist. They continue to look at
the works. Once they’ve bought one thing by an artist, they’re completely
happy two years later to look at something else by that artist. And that’s
why I think the collection is so good. Just as I’ve said, they have really
early Polke pieces, and then, over the years, they’ve been adding other
works of his to it. I also like the fact that people are living with the
collection day by day. It’s not disintegrating in a warehouse somewhere.
do you think about the concept of presenting art at the workplace?
same as I feel about it being anywhere – it sparks an interest in the ordinary
person, and in this case, most employees I spoke to at the Twin Towers
in Frankfurt seemed well aware and proud of the bank’s commitment to contemporary
art. I think that the more people are surrounded by art, the more interested
they become – and they get into it and see that the collection is growing.
there any controversies concerning the works chosen for purchase?
the art is hanging in the offices of the bank, it cannot be sexually, religiously,
or politically offensive – which does mean that some great things don’t
make it into the collection. Also, the budget doesn’t allow for serious
retrospective acquisitions to fill the gaps – for example purchasing important
American pop work such as Warhol,
to show alongside the 60s German works.
Is there a common
idea on what to buy, or do you have to fight for your ideas?
sometimes. First of all, there’s this pre-selection process where we look
at slides and the Deutsche Bank curators say “I’m interested in this art,”
and I collect the material and they say what they like. But then there’s
this one meeting, the one day when we’ve actually brought specific works
to Frankfurt. I also meet the renowned gallery-owner Bärbel Grässlin from Frankfurt there. She has been advising the Deutsche Bank for a number of years already and I work together with her on these occasions. There’s a sort of panel moment where the people from the bank and Bärbel Grässlin and I present the things and discuss them all,
and of course some rather heated discussions take place, where I say (screams
hysterically) “You must have this!” Sometimes they don’t want it because
they don’t really know about the person’s work, or maybe I didn’t present
enough of it and they have to see more. And then I go back a year later
and show them something else and they remember the work from the previous
year. So you’re building up their knowledge as much as anything else.
you also have to deal with bankers?
I only have to deal with
the curators, which is actually the difference between this and other cooperative
collections, where you’re usually dealing with a company’s directors. In
this case, they employ three art historians who have to stick to a budget
but are otherwise completely free, which is pretty unusual.
kind of perspective do you see for the collection for the future, now that
the business is getting more and more virtual?
That’s why the
bank’s curators started to think about display in a larger sense. For instance,
the collaboration with the Guggenheim Foundation is also very important,
because you actually have the opportunity to put up exhibitions in a museum
such as the Deutsche Guggenheim, rather than just in an office. In Edinburgh,
they collaborated with the Scottish National Gallery. I think that’s the
obvious way for them to go, that the curators in the bank will be initiating
more partnerships with institutions, publicising more, and getting the
collection out into the public.
How has your choice of works
influenced the appearance of the DB collection?
I present younger
and more international works to the curators. I’m also introducing more
figurative and textual works.
Which young artists do you consider
to be especially promising?
Althoff, Urs Fischer, Wilhelm
Sasnal, and from the UK Nigel Cooke, Daniel Sinsel, Jim
Lambie, Don Brown, Victoria
Morton, and Mark
Leckey – but I could go on and on, because there’s a lot of very good
work out there.
Oliver Koerner von Gustorf
v. d. Goltz/ Oliver Koerner von Gustorf