”It’s like theatre and actually for those days of the fair it is a bit like being on stage with the artworks. The opening day of any fair, Unseen and Paris Photo especially, are like hosting a party, you catch up with friends and colleagues but meet new ones too. It can be a lot of fun, especially when you are inspired by the work you are exhibiting.”
By Brad Feuerhelm
Tristan Lund is an art consultant and dealer to collectors of photography, most notably The Incite Project, a UK based collection of photojournalism and documentary photography. Previously Tristan was Director of Michael Hoppen Contemporary, London (2010-2014). He continues to work with established and emerging photographic artists, representing Max Pinckers and recently collaborating with Daniel Shea. In 2011 he co-curated the Brighton Photo Fringe.
BF: As a private consultant with a history of working for a major London gallery, what are your hopes in discovering new talents with the freedom to scout while not being on a booth?
TL: There is no other fair like Unseen. It was such a bold move for a public institution to open a commercial art fair and they do it with style – great design and location, fantastic book fair and events and an encouragement for the galleries to experiment. As a participant in the first two editions it was a highlight of the year and I really wanted to live up to the challenge of finding unseen work to bring to the fair and present the stand in a cohesive way. This may sound romantic but I felt that if we didn’t put on a good show we would be letting the fair down, not just ourselves. I think a lot of the galleries share that sentiment, they really enjoy participating and it shows in the curation.
Now I’m a visitor but I am still there to work. It is a thrill. I see new work on every stand, I come away with dozens of names and if, by the end of the fair, I’m really excited by two of those then it feels like a success. It’s then such a pleasure to present the work of these artists to the collections I work with.
BF: Being a private consultant, do you miss the energy and vibrancy of being on a more traditional booth at fairs in general?
TL: I miss the project of designing the stand and setting up the gallery in a temporary home, curating the work and then seeing what people are drawn to. It’s like theatre and actually for those days of the fair it is a bit like being on stage with the artworks. The opening day of any fair, Unseen and Paris Photo especially, are like hosting a party, you catch up with friends and colleagues but meet new ones too. It can be a lot of fun, especially when you are inspired by the work you are exhibiting. Putting together an art fair booth takes a lot of thought, time and energy and it really does show when a gallery has gone that extra mile. Without all that hard work the fairs wouldn’t exist but the position I am in now is an absolute privilege, partly because I can walk away! My day during any fair is now much more varied and I still feel like a participant in that I bring clients, introduce them to work they might otherwise overlook and hopefully facilitate that work being bought.
Chris McCaw, Sunburned GSP#755 (Pacific Ocean), 2014, @ the artist, courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York
Adam Fuss, The Space Between Garden and Eve, 2011 @ the artist, courtesy of Cheim & Read, New York
Alfredo Jaar, September 11, 1973, 1974, courtesy of the artist, New York
“Last year it was Bruno Roels with Gallery 51 and Jan Hoek at Ron Mandos. On the opening day of the fair I must have gone back to look at Roels’ work three times, I found it very different from anything else I was seeing. It was just a personal connection with these very beautiful and subtle photographs”.
BF: This is somewhat of a multiple part question…We have spoken in private about some of the works that you have handled in the last year…Adam Fuss, Luc Delahaye, Max Pinckers, and Daniel Shea to name a few. Does Unseen give you “new” eyes when approaching work and how do you dialogue with clients over works that they may not be aware of yet due to the exceptional freshness of works being offered at the fair? Is it sometimes difficult to convince them to take the plunge on a young artist over that of an established career?
TL: The collectors I’m working with really get the ethos of Unseen, they don’t expect to see a Walker Evans or Cartier-Bresson print on the walls and are coming for the same reasons I am, and one of those reasons is to be challenged. I’m thoughtful about what I present to the collectors I work with and I think they appreciate that so they usually give me the time of day when I bring a new artist to the table. For example the work of Chris McCaw is very subtle on face value but once you find out what you are looking at it is kind of mind blowing and I still find each of his Sunburn pieces extremely powerful. This sounds clichéd but there is no convincing involved, you are just explaining why the work excites you and I think it is pretty obvious if you mean it or not. But you are right, it is not always easy, especially at a fair where generally only one or two works by each artist are presented. I’m sometimes amazed that art sells at fairs at all because they really are not the ideal setting for most work. When galleries take the risk to devote their booth to one or two artists it is usually a far more rewarding experience for the viewer.
BF: Having attended the fair in previous years, can you tell us some of the artists that you have worked with or found an appreciation for that were previously unknown to you?
TL: Last year it was Bruno Roels with Gallery 51 and Jan Hoek at Ron Mandos. On the opening day of the fair I must have gone back to look at Roels’ work three times, I found it very different from anything else I was seeing. It was just a personal connection with these very beautiful and subtle photographs. On the other hand I must have walked past Jan Hoek’s work at least three times that day, clocked it but didn’t engage – which is that same problem with art fairs. Fortunately he lives in Amsterdam and gave a studio tour which turned out to be the highlight of my week. I was totally enthralled by Hoek’s stories of how each project came about, he was just so honest and articulate in such a disarmingly simple way, which I think is reflected in his work. New Ways of Photographing the New Masai is an incredibly clever and very funny piece of political art.
BF: Unseen has always been about education, dummy awards, and other implementations of a more encompassing experience. Do you get the chance to attend talks or is it pretty much business for you here? Is there anything you are looking forward to seeing?
TL: I always go to Foam and Huis Marseille, can you believe Amsterdam has both these institutions! I’m really interested to see the Momo Okabe show at Foam as well as the Magnum Contact Sheets. The Incite Project, a collection I have worked on since its beginning in 2012, is focused on photo-journalism and documentary photography and I have worked with Magnum more than any other agency since then. I am realizing more and more that each of their photographers has such a strong signature, a very hard thing to achieve in reportage. And now Max Pinckers is a nominee member, it is a wonderfully bold move on their part. Last year I went every day to Sohei Nishino’s Diorama Map Amsterdam project, a collaboration with Ivan Vartanian. I also went to the Stedelijk and Rijksmuseum, neither of which I would have seen had I been working on a gallery booth. The Stedelijk were showing this staggeringly simple work by Alfredo Jaar called September 11, it is not about 9/11 but the 1973 Chilean coup that brought Pinochet to power.
BF: Knowing of our previous discussions regarding Jan Hoek and Max Pinckers…Belgium and the Netherlands seem to have a very strong contemporary scene coming along. The artistry of the movement seems to surpass the medium of photography, even if photographic. Do you see this as a larger movement in photography or is it relegated unto a vibrant European scene?
TL: There is defiantly something going on in the Netherlands and Belgium and I do seem drawn to the art that comes out of these countries. I’m guessing it starts in the art schools and then I get the sense that young artists here are nurtured by public art institutions but also encouraged by art collectors. I’m sure if there is a network of academic, public and private support your confidence is built and you are prepared to push yourself as an artist.
As for the larger photographer/artist distinction, sometimes I find it funny that this is still being talked about but it highlights the breadth and strength of the medium. Practitioners across the spectrum of photography, from a photojournalist to an artist re-appropriating found images, can connect through their love of the medium. Unseen is bringing that excitement to an expanding audience and it makes sense that the larger art world will want to get involved.
(All rights reserved. Text @ ASX. Images @ the artists.)