The Wick - Sadie Coles. © Sadie Coles, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Heiko Prigge The Wick - Sadie Coles. © Sadie Coles, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London. Photo: Heiko Prigge
Monday Muse

Interview London gallerist Sadie Coles

Interview
Sadie Coles
Photography
Heiko Prigge
05 December 2021
Interview
Sadie Coles
Photography
Heiko Prigge
05 December 2021
Once described as ‘one of the most powerful people in the art world’ by The Guardian, Sadie Coles has contributed to the development of contemporary art in the UK for more than two decades. After working for art dealer Anthony d’Offay for six years and managing Jeff Koons’s studio in New York, Coles decided to open her own gallery in London in 1997.

Sadie Coles HQ now has three locations across the city, including a sprawling space on Kingly Street. It also represents more than 50 established and emerging provocative artists including Helen Marten, Alvaro Barrington and British artist Sarah Lucas, who first encouraged Coles to go it alone so she could represent her. As this week’s Monday Muse, Coles shares what she looks for in emerging artists and her favourite festive spots.

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Sadie Coles:   Monday is a quieter day for galleries since we all work Saturdays. We would usually be doing non-public things, catching up a bit, perhaps seeing museum exhibitions or studio visits.

TW:   You opened your eponymous gallery in 1997. What inspired you to launch your own space?

SC:   The artists inspired me, encouraged me, to open. I was nervous and not certain that I would be able to do the business side of it. But it was the most exciting time in London, the potency of potential and the energy of the arts community was intoxicating and so much fun.

TW:   You’re a huge supporter of artists and other art organisations. What is one thing you think should be on everyone’s radar?

SC:   Anything to do with supporting access to arts education, which has been horribly eroded by our government in the last years. As a nation we have an enviable culture industry, including creators, producers and entrepreneurs, so it is disingenuous not to offer arts education for all.

TW:   What’s the quality you most admire in people and why?

SC:   Genius. Because it is bestowed on so few and impacts so many. We need to be led by the best thinkers.

“We have an enviable culture industry… so it is disingenuous not to offer arts education for all.”

TW:   In deciding who to represent, what are you looking for in emerging artists?

SC:   It is usually something that I can’t quite get my head around, that intrigues me and gets me asking questions, that feels bottomless with lots of directions it can go, that makes me want to meet the artist. It also has to feel essential to me, that I can’t be without it, and that I can make others feel the same way about it. 

TW:   What inspired the latest Kingly Street exhibition, ‘What Do You See, You People, Gazing At Me’?

SC:   I was interested in a kind of carousel of figuration, to show very different approaches to the body in painting and sculpture by eight artists new to the gallery. I wanted to surprise and be surprised. I wanted to look.

TW:   Name your favourite culturally curious spot for December.

SC:   MUBI, probably. Getting some time to watch films is a holiday luxury. That and The National Gallery on Christmas Eve. I go there every year, to look at angels and madonnas and pointy medieval footwear, before going home to cook for the next day. I like how happy everyone is to get that last look at great paintings and how kind and knowledgeable the guards are.

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

SC:   It is almost torture to choose just one of each and I would choose very different music, literature and art for other contexts. I suppose I would have to say ‘Heroes’ by David Bowie to remind of key memories in my life, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare for comedy, tragedy and enough sheer volume to last before rescue, and ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’ by Bosch because I would never get bored of trying to figure out where that imagination came from.


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