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Tim Marlow, the Director of Exhibitions at White Cube (Londona). Photo:

Tim Marlow: Expanding the White Cube 0

Interviewed by Elīna Zuzāne

Tim Marlow is the Director of Exhibitions at White Cube, one of the most prestigious galleries in the world. During India Art Fair, which the gallery is participating in for the first time, had the pleasure to meet Tim Marlow and ask his opinion on developments in contemporary art, India Art Fair, and the reasons for White Cube branching out into Asia. 

We would be very interested to know your viewpoint on India Art Fair. How do you regard the fair?

It feels similar to a number of international art fairs that I have been to, but I like the local, regional twist to it. Quite a number of galleries are here from Delhi and India and I want to spend time looking at those in a certain amount of detail. It will be very good preliminary research to get a sense of what’s going on. I would love to come and travel the length and breath of this country to see what it has to offer. And one day, I will. But it’s brilliant to come to an art fair where the best galleries and the most ambitious galleries are all gathered together. It’s a kind of microcosm.

Could you describe White Cube’s exhibition stand?

Obviously, we wanted to showcase a range of work by some of the most exciting artists we work with. Our gallery is very international. We decided that for the first India Art Fair, we were going to show British artists who are also known internationally – Damien Hirst, Gary Hume, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, Gilbert & George, Antony Gormley and Sarah Morris.

It’s a nice range of work - from Damien Hirst’s diamond or zirconia cabinet, drawings and a body cast or a domain sculpture by Antony Gormley, to Marc Quinn’s painting and sculpture combination.

And what is the price range?

£8000 for the drawings. I will put you down for one. £525’000 for the cabinet. It’s yours, but you have to be quick (grins).

You mentioned that all the artists exhibited at White Cube’s stand are British. Do you think national identity exists in art?

That it is a key question, a very interesting one. Absolutely there is national identity, but I think that it is something that artists often critique. It’s often blurred in a world of mass communication. A lot of artists play with that idea and the distortion of those boundaries. In a paradoxical way, walking around in an art fair you see a lot of art that speaks an international language, but at the same time much of it, once you look a little deeper, is wrestling with the idea of a particular culture. 20 – 30 years ago it would be much easier to walk around, not that anything like this existed, saying -British, American, Indian, Italian or whatever… it is less so now. Although, actually Indian art does seem to have a more explicit and sophisticated dialogue with certain cultural traditions.

Would this be a characteristic of Indian contemporary art?

I wouldn’t say Indian art above all others. It is just something that struck me in the first couple of hours walking around the fair. There appears to be some very interesting art that seems to have a dialogue with Indian visual traditions.

How do you usually find new talent?

My colleagues and I are always looking. We want to bring the most interesting, ambitious and exciting art to our galleries in London. And we are opening a gallery in Hong Kong. We are always looking to see what’s happening. We don’t have an agenda that we want an artist from India, an artist from China, an artist from Australia. It doesn’t quite work like that. But I think it’s impossible not to be interested in what’s going on here - the largest democracy in the world, a country of huge complexity, vibrancy and drama. India has a substantially interesting market and there seems to be a possibility of a stronger interest in western art. Although, it will take time.

Which new artist have you recently discovered?

Can’t tell you (laughs). Not till we show them. We have a program called “Inside the White Cube” in our new gallery in Bermondsey, where we have started to show works by Marieta Chirulescu, Nikolas Gambaroff and Mary Corse. It is a program showcasing work that has either not been promoted, or is made by artists who have not really been seen in London.

When did it start?

It existed for a year about ten years ago. But now, in a slightly different guise, it started last October.

Can artists apply for it?

No. We look and discuss, and develop a dialogue. And the interesting thing is, instead of feeling that we want to sign them up, or that they need to become White Cube artists, with all the drama and responsibilities that go with that, it’s an invitation to do a show with no strings attached. And who knows what happens after that. It’s a program that also applies to artists who work with other galleries, in different contexts and styles. It is not the idea that we are going to represent you and make show after show. It’s slightly more liberating, for both sides.

But what is the drama? What is the procedure of becoming a White Cube artist?

Make very strong art, stop making very strong shows. If you are looking for advice on how to show in a gallery such as White Cube, just be as good as you can. Artists who try to fit a perceived mold of a certain gallery in order to join that gallery, in the end become stuck. I think you have to make the art that you feel compelled to make, and let the gallery work with that. There is no White Cube house-style. We are associated with the YBAs [Young British Artists] but 70% of all the exhibitions we have ever staged have been with artists based overseas. We work with over 50 artists and there is a palpable difference in what they are producing. We like the eclecticism of that. But there are also galleries, very good galleries, that have a much tighter critical position, where they represent a certain feel or some other criteria.

Recently, White Cube announced plans to open a new branch in Hong Kong.

Yes, 1st of March! And the opening show will be Gilbert & George. World premier! New pictures! (grins)

Why now?

It has taken us a year to locate the right space. In Hong Kong, it’s difficult to find general spaces on ground floors where you can get works in. And if you can’t provide decent spaces, you are not serving your artists correctly. We have identified Hong Kong as a very interesting place. We are intrigued by Hong Kong as a post-colonial hub, as a regional centre and its relationship to China. We have a three-year lease on the building. We will see how it goes for these three years and then reconsider. We might just do it for a short period; we might do it for a lifetime.

Why Hong Kong? Why not New Delhi or Moscow?

Interesting you mentioned those two other countries. There is a very exciting relationship between us, as a London-based gallery, and the post-colonial place that is Hong Kong. It’s very easy to do business there. Hong Kong is a Freeport. That makes it a great place to work in, within the region. I don’t just mean selling. When staging exhibitions, it’s very easy to get work in. Moscow is very difficult. New Delhi has certain problems. We wanted to be in Asia so that we can see what’s happening from close quarters. There will be other places… possibly permanently, or maybe new projects. We are always looking at how we can work in different places.

What is your relationship with Russian contemporary art scene?

Russia interests me. It has a very interesting culture. Because of its history and because of the way artists had to deal with totalitarianism and censorship… and a bit of that amazingly distinguished early modernist flourishing, it makes a potential for a very exciting fusion.  But I can see it being tough for the artists as well.

I judged the Kandinsky Prize last year. I thought there was some really strong art and I liked it. But the recession has hit the art world of Russia quite strongly. Still, there are some excellent commercial gallery-steps starting in Russia, like Garage's plans to develop an island in St. Petersburg. Russia also has great museums. Hong Kong doesn’t have that. I enjoy going to Russia and I have worked closely with museums there, such as The Hermitage. But it is a tough place to do business in.

Where do you think the art market is heading?

All over the globe, and becoming more and more diverse. I think the top end seems to be much more resilient than people thought three or four years ago. The bottom end, the young end, the emerging end, always gets stronger in times of recession. Collectors like to look at the fresh. There is also less risk involved and it attracts new collectors. And as collectors are actually generational, many will grow up and collect artists of their own generation. I think the middle of the western art market has been squeezed quite heavily. But there is resilience. We will see. I think it’s the globalisation that’s the interesting thing. The fact is that in the West, we are seeing really good art coming from other parts of the world. And the hope is that these other parts of the world are interested in the best art being produced in the West.

Do you collect art?

Yes, eclectically and madly. I don’t have a great collection, but it’s all right.

Could you describe it more? Which artists are represented?

I will see if you can guess (laughs). Which artists would I have? I have a lot of British artists and a lot of British artists that I don’t actually work with. But of course, I have works by Antony Gormley, Gary Hume, Marc Quinn, Tracey Emin…

Tracey would have been my guess. I would have thought so.

Very much so. In fact, before I worked with White Cube, when I was still a postgraduate student, I bought a drawing of Tracey’s in 1997.

Was that the beginning of your collection?

Funnily enough, no! I bought an etching by Christopher Le Brun six years before that, in a print fair. That was the first thing that I bought, but Tracey was probably the beginning of something that would gain momentum.

Seems like a strong collection.

They are not major pieces. I have a great Gilbert and George. Actually, I have never talked about it but, as I am describing it, it is very British.

Has your taste altered through the years?

I really hope so. One of the things with contemporary art is that you are always exposed to the new. I am an art historian by training, and I have a kind of another life presenting television programs about old master art. I do love exhibitions of old master art, and good exhibitions can actually change your perceptions. But I enjoy going back into the contemporary world and it’s vigour. I don’t think it’s better. It’s just different. When people ask you about the market or even the recession, there are always young artists emerging. The art market is always replenishing itself. Culturally, it’s very interesting because there are always new things being accomplished. Human beings seem to have this kind of compulsion to work out different ways of seeing the world, or expressing how they perceive the world. This means that our business, our world, should never be dull. I think when it starts to be dull, it’s time to get out.

Tim Marlow, the Director of Exhibitions at White Cube (Londona). Photo:

In the archives:
13/02/2012 - Art fairs :: India Art Fair 2012 Review
27/01/2012 - Art fairs :: Photo report from India Art Fair 2012
25/01/2012 - Art fairs :: India Art Fair 2012