The Wick - Interview Goodman Gallery’s Jo Stella-Sawicka The Wick - Interview Goodman Gallery’s Jo Stella-Sawicka
Monday Muse

Interview Goodman Gallery’s Jo Stella-Sawicka

Jo Stella-Sawicka
23 January 2022
Jo Stella-Sawicka
23 January 2022
After nearly a decade as part of Frieze’s leadership team in London, during which she launched Frieze Sculpture and helped curate critically acclaimed sections such as Sex Work and Social Work, in 2018 Jo Stella-Sawicka became the director of Goodman Gallery in London – one of the longest-standing contemporary galleries in the world.

Sharing the gallery’s vision in addressing broader social issues and drawing on 10 years working in commercial galleries, including being a director of Stephen Friedman Gallery, Stella-Sawicka was a natural choice to oversee Goodman’s global roster and programming for its Cork Street location.

She is also a trustee of the Institute of Contemporary Art, London, sat on the commissioning panel for the Crossrail Art Programme – the UK’s largest public art scheme – and was a driving force behind London Gallery Weekend. Following the success of last year’s inaugural edition, LGW will return in May for a three-day event uniting the galleries of the capital and art-lovers and curators from across the UK. As this week’s Monday Muse, she shares what inspired the initiative and the next changes she’d like to see in the art world.

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Jo Stella-Sawicka:   The gallery is closed, which gives me the opportunity to take stock, plan and strategise for the week ahead. It’s also a chance to see artists — last Monday, I was in Paris, at the Palais de Tokyo, seeing a brilliant new exhibition, Ubuntu, a lucid dream, which includes several Goodman Gallery artists. I also got to hang out with Kapwani Kiwanga, who’s coming up at the Venice Biennale. I consider Monday to be my research day, and that makes it one of the most exciting days of the week.

TW:   Who is your personal Monday Muse?

JSS:   Clare Lilley, who’s just been announced as the new director of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. I worked with Clare when I was setting up Frieze Sculpture, and she’s one of the most passionate and knowledgeable curators in her field. She’s an absolute dream to work with, but she’s also got an incredible depth of knowledge. I love working with people who have such a passion for their particular area. Her success could not be better deserved.

TW:   How has the Goodman Gallery evolved over the past four years, and where do you think it’s headed?

JSS:   We launched at a really challenging time, with an election, Brexit and then the pandemic. Despite the challenges, I feel our message has been able to cut through. The gallery has an incredibly illustrious, rich and important history. It launched in the Sixties as a non-discriminatory space during the apartheid period, and so our social justice mission has been a part of our DNA from the outset. Despite the interruption of the pandemic, people have seen that the programming we’ve made and the artists we’ve worked with has made an impact in London.

TW:   The Goodman Gallery focuses on exhibiting work that confronts entrenched power structures and inspires social change. Why do you think this is so important in today’s climate?

JSS:   The inequalities that the pandemic made visible means that the conversation is as urgent now as ever. Obviously, those challenges are different in Europe than they are in Africa, but it still means there are very important things to address. Our most recent exhibition in Cape Town looked at the pandemic of gender-based violence in South Africa, and while that’s a major issue in that particular country, that’s not to say it isn’t also a huge problem around the world. Irrespective of the progress that’s been made as a society, there are still major challenges that need to be confronted and the gallery works with artists to create a platform for conversations we think are transforming change. Grada Kilomba, for example, who is an Angolan theorist, performance artist and filmmaker, is at the forefront of conversations around whose research is in the areas of trauma, gender and post colonialism. Her book, Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism, which is published in 10 languages, talks about entrenched racism in everyday life. One of her tools is writing, and it’s important for us to support our artists across their different mediums.

“Irrespective of the progress that’s been made as a society, there are still major challenges that need to be confronted.”

TW:   What inspired you to launch the London Gallery Weekend?

JSS:   While I am a co-founder of London Gallery Weekend, it is really the result of a conversation that was led by the galleries, for the galleries. We realised mid-pandemic that we needed to encourage footfall from our domestic audiences. We know London audiences are brilliant at supporting culture, but they perhaps don’t feel they have the tools to understand how to access the breadth of galleries in London. While there are the established art gallery areas of Cork Street and Mayfair, there are also exciting new galleries opening in Deptford, New Cross and Peckham. We wanted to make sure we’re highlighting galleries from across the spectrum, so we did a call-out to our colleagues — galleries could participate so long as they had a bricks-and-mortar operation representing contemporary artists. There were more than 115 in our inaugural year, and this year we’re back May 13-15. The ambition is to make it a weekend in the London cultural calendar people look forward to.

TW:   Who are some of the artists you’re most excited about today?

JSS:   This is a big year for many of our artists because of the Venice Biennale. I’m particularly excited about Kapwani Kiwanga, who will be presented as part of the 59th International Art Exhibition, curated by Cecilia Alemani. She’ll also have a solo show at the New Museum in New York and be appearing in the Lyon and Berlin Biennale.

I’m also hugely excited about Grada Kilomba, whose performance O Barco/The Boat debuted last year in Lisbon and is touring around the world. It’s a powerful experience that’s both immersive and challenging, confronting the painful history of the international slave trade

I’m really excited about a generation of artists who are getting visibility because they’re dealing with critical conversations around social justice and how we think about social repair, taking into account the radical shifts taking place in our society. Last year was also a massive year for Yinka Shonibare, a towering figure in the UK. His curation of the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition achieved record footfall, which considering the pandemic is saying something. Next month, he’s going to open a major new project in Lagos, which is his foundation and residency. It’s an amazing example of an artist using their platform to support other artists to create cultural exchange.

TW:   What is a change you’d like to see in the art world in 2022?

JSS:   There are some things that a lot of colleagues would like to keep from the pandemic times, particularly slowing down in terms of pace and taking a more sustainable approach to travel. The art world has been a bit of a whirlwind for the past 10 years. Now, people are much more aware of their impact and thinking more carefully around travel and shipping. Those are things I think are critically important to us as a community and will become more of a focus as organisations, like the Gallery Climate Coalition, and galleries themselves get us to reconsider how we work going forward.

TW:   Who are your six dream guests for the ultimate culturally curious dinner party?

JSS:   Top of the list is Bengi Ünsal, the new director of the Institute of Contemporary Arts, who has made a huge impact as the head of contemporary music at Southbank Centre. As a trustee of the ICA, I can’t wait to see what she brings. Sumayya Vally, the architect and founder of Counterspace Studio, whose Serpentine Pavilion this summer was astonishing in its ambition and commitment to communities across London. Caroline Douglas, the director of the Contemporary Art Society, who’s one of the most visionary leaders of nonprofits in London. The artist Sue Williamson, who in her eightieth year is finally getting the accolades she deserves. Nabihah Iqbal, whose performance is coming up at the Southbank Centre and whose interdisciplinary approach is really fascinating. And finally Zoé Whitley, the director of the Chisenhale Gallery, who we partnered with in association with charity artists to embed an artist in Chisenhale Hill primary school – enriching the curricular at a time when experiences what incredibly limited due to the pandemic.

TW:   Desert island quarantine – which album, book and artwork do you take with you?

JSS:   I’ll take The Library of Things We Forgot to Remember, which is a vinyl library of African liberation music by the artist Kudzanai Chiurai, on view currently at the Palais de Tokyo. I’m going to read Grada Kilomba’s Plantation Memories: Episodes of Everyday Racism. For the artwork, I’ll take the charity blanket we commissioned with the artist Samson Kambalu’s to benefit the Johannesburg health clinic, our long-term NGO partners – it raised funds for critical health care and it will keep me warm.

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