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Michael Smith in conversation with Teresa Lizamore and Paul Bayliss

By Michael Smith on 06 June

Bayliss Gallery


Bayliss Gallery, . Photograph

The gallery scene is in a constant state of flux, especially in Johannesburg, where the savvy curators and ‘ideas-people’ seek to capitalise on the growing appetite for contemporary art. I spoke to two gallerists at different points on their career trajectories: Teresa Lizamore and Paul Bayliss.  Lizamore of Lizamore & Associates (previously Artspace gallery) is something of a mainstay on the Johannesburg scene, with numerous years as a successful art consultant and commercial gallerist under her belt. While Bayliss despite many years collecting contemporary art by emerging talents is just starting out, having recently opened Bayliss Gallery in Norwood.

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Michael Smith: Paul and Teresa, you’ve both opened new spaces in the last month or so: Paul, you’ve launched the new Bayliss Gallery in Norwood – while Teresa, you’ve expanded, opening up a much larger space across the road from your previous gallery in Parkwood. Could you each tell me about your experiences getting your respective spaces ready for business?

Paul Bayliss: Primarily the biggest challenge was in the registering of a new business and setting it up. The bureaucracy and delays therein are endless. Simply trying to register a business, for instance, takes several months. Only when the business is registered, can one then proceed with the opening of a bank account, installing phone lines and networks, etc. The system is certainly not friendly to entrepreneurs. In a country with high unemployment, where we are trying to create opportunities for young entrepreneurs and for them in turn to create jobs, this needs to be addressed; we need to enable small businesses to thrive.

Teresa Lizamore: Our decision to move came over a period of time as our last premises became too small to accommodate all our surplus art, and we also needed more space for larger exhibitions. The old premises became too limiting. We were on the lookout for a new larger space and we wanted to stay in the same area – this did not come about easily as there weren’t many options. When we eventually decided to view the space across the road, which we initially thought was out of our reach, we totally fell in love with it and felt that it was perfect for a gallery. The building has about 400sqm of floor space, houses the main gallery in a large open space, and a cottage which is being utilised as a viewing room, residency space, stock room and board room. Large, mobile wall units make it easy to customize the space for each show, giving us the freedom to curate a space within a space.

Lizamore & Assoc. Gallery


Lizamore & Assoc. Gallery

Photograph

MS: What sort of artists does each gallery target? Is there a particular style or interpretation of contemporary art you’re interested in forwarding?

TL: We opened our new space with a group show titled 'Marking the Map' featuring works from our family of artists, each producing work for our launch. This allowed the artists to present the best from their oeuvres. Our gallery focuses on contemporary South African art by established artists, as well as new emerging artists. Our main focus is to present the works of contemporary artists who produce thought provoking, cutting edge work, while remaining accessible to most art lovers.

PB: The Bayliss Gallery is looking at providing young and emerging artists with an opportunity to grow their brand and to gain a foothold into the visual art industry. It is an opportunity for a new generation of artists to showcase their talent. As a gallery, it is also about investing in the industry. Through our exhibitions we will showcase both emerging and established artists.

MS: An old anecdote about Andy Warhol was that he was such a ‘scenester’ in the New York art world, that he would go to the opening of an envelope. How important are exhibition openings for sales? Or are they just populated by hangers-on angling for vino, with no intention of purchasing?

PB: At any opening there is always a mixed crowd: there are those – like myself – who would frequent as many openings as possible. The advantage of attending an opening is the opportunity you get to meet the artist. Openings also provide an important opportunity to network, to meet other artists, gallerists, curators and art lovers. The advantage of openings is that friends tend to bring other friends with them, and this helps to build the audience of the gallery.

Sales aren’t always dependent on openings: often they happen before the opening. Certain works are shown to specific clients, and purchases are concluded before the show opens to the rest of its viewing public. And previews are accessible: if one is interested, one just has to contact the gallery and ask to be invited.

TL: Our experience is that buying at openings is not as important as the celebration of the artist and the exhibition. We do, however, have a preview of every exhibition so that interested buyers can pop in prior to the opening to view the works with the possibility of purchasing works. We find that our clients prefer the solitude of moving around the gallery viewing art without the masses and noise that one normally has at an opening.

MS: The scene in Gauteng seems to be constantly expanding: with the pool of artists constantly growing, how does a gallerist find the time to source new work and develop new artists?

TL: Being in the market for many years teaches a gallerist to keep one ear to the ground and stay informed about which artists to watch out for. We source artists nationally, and currently work with artists in KwaZulu-Natal as well as a number from Cape Town. The majority of our artists do come from Gauteng. Profile building is very important and this comes with time. We always go the extra mile and treat our artists as partners. Our Mentorship Programme is one way we nurture and support new artists, in which an established artist works over a period of time with a new artist culminating in a solo exhibition at our gallery. This project is fully sponsored by our gallery.

PB: Running a gallery and keeping up to date with trends in the industry is a full-time commitment. You need to have a passion for art; there’s no nine-to-five hours or switching it off. A good gallerist will go to other galleries, art fairs and festivals, see art, often in other cities. As we speak, I’m in Nelson Mandela Bay (Port Elizabeth) setting up a show, but also taking cognizance of the work by new artists down here. In that way, the Bayliss Gallery is not just about positioning Gauteng artists: we will work with artists from around the country. We are always searching for talent that we can showcase.

MS: Paul, you’ve pegged your gallery in the R5000 – R25 000 price bracket: what is the profile of buyer that purchases in that price segment?

PB: Not everyone can afford a Kentridge or a Philemon Hlongwane; but one must remember that all established artists today had to start somewhere. By identifying young talent and working with emerging artists we’re providing buyers who do not have huge budgets but wish to invest in the industry, the opportunity to get into the art-buying market. In terms of my own personal collection, that is where I started and have enjoyed tracking the careers of each of the artists in my collection. The Bayliss Gallery also provides an opportunity to educate people about South African art and artists.

MS: Teresa, your price bracket seems to be more around R20 000 – R100 000; same question: what sort of buyers do you get in that portion of the market?

TL: In fact, our price structure for artworks at our new premises is as low as R5 000 and can be as high as R150 000, attracting a broader spectrum of buyers to our gallery. The new space is much larger than our previous 90sqm at the old premises, allowing us to present work which is not only larger in size but also more valuable. However, as we have become known for marketing the work of new young artists, we want to retain this image, but also gradually start attracting more established artists and buyers to our gallery. We attract new, young buyers, starting out their collections to more established buyers and collectors.

MS: What do you think the role of the brick-and-mortar gallery is in the contemporary age, where online buying and art fairs apparently threaten its role?

TL: Viewing a body of works by one artist in a beautifully lit space will always be first priority and although many a buyer can view works for sale on the internet, I do believe that there will always be a place for the gallery. Many a gallery such as ours take pride in assisting an artist grow their profile and build their careers and this can only be done where both parties are involved. There are so many more opportunities for an artist if they choose to work with one gallery for an extended period of time. Clients also have the opportunity of meeting the artist at the gallery. Relationships grow when client, curator and artist meet on a continuous basis.

PB: I think there will always be a place for the Gallery. The difference is that a gallery can be a place where one builds a relationship with clients. Also, nothing replaces seeing the work in real life before you purchase it: in this sense, I think the ‘real-space’ gallery will always have the edge over online sales.

MS: The contemporary art world has seen an explosion of art fairs in the last decade: one source lists an incredible total of 270 art fairs slated for 2014. Locally, we’ve seen a similar growth: the FNB Joburg Art Fair was the first, but since its inception, the Turbine Art Fair emerged and is about to have its second run in the same city, while the Cape Town Art Fair is also in its second year. How do you think the growing importance of art fairs will change the way galleries approach business?

PB: The biggest challenge you have at a fair is the building of a sustainable relationship with the buyer. Secondly, the continued success of any fair is very much linked to sponsorship and support, particularly corporate sponsorship: they lend the fair a certain level of credibility, but also act as a regulator. No corporate sponsor is going to attach their name to an event unless the very best product is being sold and the provenance of all artwork for sale can be upheld. 

The importance of art fairs and visual art exhibitions at various festivals is that often a different audience attends the fairs, one that doesn’t always visit a gallery. For those interested in the purchasing of artwork, a fair provides a smorgasbord of choice for the buyer. As such, they do help to create much greater awareness around art; and any added awareness is important for the future growth and sustainability of the industry.

TL: Art fairs are important as firstly they introduce the uninformed to contemporary art, and secondly they give galleries branding and marketing opportunities. Of course, they also provide great conditions in which to conclude sales. Awareness in South Africa has grown so much since the inception of the art fairs. Galleries are all open to the fairs, which are seen as opportunities where one can market your gallery, meet new clients and make a substantial profit over a short period of time.

MS: To move away from business for a moment, how do you each perceive the art scene in Gauteng? What are the major trends in evident in the work of artists active right now?

TL: Figurative work seems to be very prevalent, and there seems to be a strong emphasis at present on environmental issues. Many a tree is seen in art nowadays. Printmaking has become big due to emphasis being placed on the value of prints, and the affordability of prints in a depressed financial market.

PB: Interestingly, I see many younger artists returning to traditional media and processes, be it painting, sculpture or printmaking. There are a number of artists doing installation work as well.

MS: A related question: where do you see things moving? As fewer and fewer young people make overtly political art, for which there is inevitably a market, how do you think they will navigate their way through careers?

PB: Yes, there’s a lot less political work than I would have thought, considering what is reported upon in the media and facing our twenty years of democracy. I find issues of identity, of artists working out how they fit in socially and culturally, far more prevalent than overt politics. A lot more work is introspective, in the sense that artists are interested in making work about themselves, identity and their own experiences, rather than talking about power relations and politics.

TL: A true and successful artist will produce what is close to their heart.