Kim Savage got his start in the art world where many aspire to end up – at the international powerhouse that is Saatchi Gallery. Cutting his chops in this cut throat environment pushed Kim to develop impeccable exhibition production skills, which today are evident in the shows he puts on in his own London gallery, FOLD.
FOLD Gallery currently represents a core group of thirteen artists who work in a range of media with a focus on materiality within European painting and sculpture. With an innovative exhibition programme of focused artist and group shows, Kim balances furthering FOLD stable artists’ careers on a national and international platform, and introducing new artists into the gallery FOLD.
As a trained painter, we were interested to hear from Kim about his transition from artist to curator and gallerist, and find out more about his experience running a commercial contemporary art gallery.
AMM: Do you remember the first exhibition you curated? What are some of the things you’ve learnt since then and how has your approach changed over the years?
KS: I think the first exhibition was USA Today, a Saatchi Gallery show in the State Hermitage in St Petersburg, which was something I co-curated with the newly appointed Hermitage Curator of Contemporary Art. It was a show that had previously been at the Royal Academy and it was quite controversial at the time – especially to be taking it to Russia. Just getting some of the work through customs was a challenge. I managed to convince them to hang a work by Josephine Meckseper in the old Soviet State vault which was used during the cold war.
AMM: As a trained painter, in your view what are the parallels between making art and curating?
KS: I think the gallery programme certainly reflects that I come from a painting background. It reflects my fascination with material and abstraction. Everything we show tends to somehow relate back to painting or the process of making. As a gallerist you have the ability to control the programme and, as a result, influence concepts and the aesthetics of what goes into making the shows. So I guess one of the main parallels between making art and running a gallery could be megalomania(!)
AMM: What is your understanding of the role of curator?
KS: I would like to say that I have never been comfortable with the term curator – I find it is often over used and not in the right context. As a gallerist – a term I feel suggests something more encompassing – there is a much broader reach, you work on all aspects of the programme simultaneously.
Traditionally a curator’s role is as a specialist in a particular field or in a particular artist or group of artists. Often in big institutions it involves taking care of one specific aspect of a collection. There has been a lot written recently on contemporary curators as artworld ‘superstars’ being a bit of a blight, especially at events like the Venice Biennale. Although some might think simply selecting a group of artists and coming up with a show title might be enough to call oneself a curator – for me the best curators are those whose approach holds more in common with the tradition of ‘taking care’. I think it is these curators who produce shows with a sense of longevity and nurture.
We must remember that without artists there would be no curators. Or galleries for that matter.
AMM: What are some of the ways that curating challenges and satisfies you creatively?
KS: As a gallerist I get loads of satisfaction from working on the initial inception of a show in conjunction with an artist and then seeing it through to production. It is a great journey – thinking about the concept and the aesthetic in tangent. This is particularly true with the artists I represent where there is a real sense of a mutual voyage of discovery.
AMM: How does your experience in exhibition production gained through your various roles at Saatchi and FOLD influence you curatorially?
KS: Saatchi taught me about attention to detail. Having my own gallery taught me about the importance of patience.
AMM: Please tell us about your conceptual process when developing a new show. Where do you look for inspiration and new ideas?
KS: This usually happens when I want to introduce new artists that I haven’t worked with before to the programme. I tend to present them first in a group show. I constantly have a long list of people I would like to show. So it is a matter of looking at the work and see who fits with who; it’s quite natural really. The concept or theme develops through the process of selection, studio visits and conversations with the artists.
AMM: In your view, what characterises a successful exhibition?
KS: A strong aesthetic, a good dialogue between the work, lots of press and a good gallery attendance. Of course some sales are also quite important.
AMM: What are some of the challenges and learnings you’ve personally experienced running FOLD over the years?
KS: Being dependant on sales is always challenging. Especially whilst trying to maintain an international art fair programme. I have learnt to be persistent and ambitious.
AMM: In many ways, your business is all about people. Are you a people person? What skills does it take to do what you do?
KS: I think in the beginning I wasn’t much of a people person, so that is something I have had to work on. I don’t think that there are any particular skills – like any business you need to be a good all rounder.
AMM: What sort of gallery culture does FOLD have? How have you gone about establishing this?
KS: The name itself, ‘FOLD’, comes from the expression ‘welcoming someone into the fold’ – an idea of inclusion. I think we are unpretentious and hope to be accessible but also uncompromising in the standard of work we present.
AMM: In 2015 FOLD transitioned from a project space to commercial gallery. Can you tell us a bit about what precipitated that move, and as the founder and director, what that meant for you personally?
KS: This process was quite organic. It happened as a result of building sales and of me giving up my day job. It was a big commitment but was also really exciting to be fully committed to the gallery and be more in control of our combined destinies.
AMM: How does the programme of curated group shows support the gallery’s objectives and strategy?
KS: We are producing fewer and fewer group shows as the list of represented artists grows. I now tend to present two or three person shows where we can really focus more on the artists’ practice and present a stronger dialogue between the work.
AMM: A commercial gallery can’t exist without collectors. How have you gone about growing your collector base and bringing new collectors into the fold?
KS: Art fairs are the main way of doing this. Doing the right fairs and meeting the budget are the biggest challenges. Once we are there if we have selected the right artist(s) for the right fair the work tends to speak for itself and this brings in the collectors.
AMM: What’s next for you and FOLD? What should we look out for?
KS: I’m really excited about our next two shows – Judy Millar in September / October and Dominic Kennedy in October / November. Also look out for us in Untitled Miami in December.
Find out more: www.foldgallery.com
Text and interview by Layla Leiman for ArtMaze Magazine.