Interview with the guest curator of ArtMaze Mag – Kristin Hjellegjerde

Established in 2012, Kristin Hjellegjerde Gallery quickly gained recognition in the contemporary art world for showing a roster of innovative, international artists, both emerging and established, with strong theoretical and aesthetic bases. Named one of Blouin’s 500 Best Galleries Worldwide in both 2016 and 2015, and The Londonist’s Independent Gallery of the Year in 2014, the gallery showcases cutting-edge art in a cohesive, intimate space focused on the presentation of a concerted body of work.

Drawing on her own international background, Kristin Hjellegjerde seeks to discover and develop new talents by creating a platform through which they can be exposed to local and international clients. Kristin Hjellegjerde acts as an art advisor for private and corporate collectors, as well as working closely with developers and architects.

AMM: Kristin, could you please highlight the relevant chapters from your artistic background? How did you fall into this line of work and form your own gallery in London?

KH: I studied literature in Oslo, which has helped me immensely in learning to decipher and appreciate narrative artists. I also went to acting school (NY) and wrote and directed plays (LA) during my time in America, so curating a show feels like staging a theatrical production, in a way. The commercial aspect of being a gallerist benefits from the fact I really enjoy closing a deal – the result of my experiences of working in real estate in Manhattan. The move to London right after taking an art business course at the New York University with my husband gave me the kick I needed to take the risk and open a space on my own… even with only knowing a handful of people…

AMM: We admire your international background and how proactive you are. Tell us a little bit about your travels. How often do you go away and what are the most interesting destinations for you in terms of art inspiration?

KH: Thanks, I thought first I would count how many trips I made last year and then I thought…no let’s let this one go. I love travelling, perhaps I am a bit of a born nomad really. Had I not had my family to ground me I don´t think I could be in one place for very long. Luckily I have two children and a husband that makes me just cool down a bit and appreciate other factors in life, so I am extremely appreciative to be able to have both worlds.

I think cities such as New York, London and Berlin can never be boring when it comes to what is going on. I also enjoy exploring new territories as the artists we work with are from such different parts of the world, like when I visited Dawit Abebe in Addis Ababa. It would be fantastic to be able to visit, for example, Zeeshan Muhammad in Karachi, Daniel Malva in Sao Paulo or Zhu Wei in Beijing. Oh, you got me going, now I really want to go.

AMM: How would you describe your gallery aesthetics?

KH: The gallery is like a home, the artists and the people working for the gallery a family. I want all to have a safe place to pour out their creativity, not all creative work is good… so we will have to also be a place to find how the artists can bring out their best, stretch it a little bit more, push them and guide them to hone their own practice and grow as artists. Them as well as me, I always think how I can do a little bit better, what can I do for everyone to have the best exposure and be constantly pro active. It makes me so happy to see the artists becoming such great friends, giving each other hot tips, comforting or cheering each other on. One person’s success is the whole gallery´s celebration. The artists might not at first glimpse have too much in common, but they all have an ample technique at base, strong narrative and a great identifiable identity in their work… and of course a great personality.

AMM: How do you find the artists to work with and what are the main aspects of their artistic careers that are crucial for you? Could you list three main qualities that an artist should have in order to be noticed by a gallery like yours?

KH: 1. Stay true to yourself, if you create from your heart you will always be unique

2. Keep exhibiting (even if you have to pull together an exhibit with friends);

3. Use social media;

Adding one more… 4. Be social, show up to an opening, be there for others and they will be there for you.

AMM: Could you share with us some of your key ways of promoting the artists you exhibit? 

KH: As said earlier, the gallery is like a home. With this ethos, we have a great platform to embrace collectors as our friends, and I never see a deal as a one off wonder but as a long term relationship. Therefore many of the people we engage with end up collecting not just one artist but often end up supporting quite a few.

Journalists too keep the wheels going around, and luckily we receive quite a lot of attention for a young gallery without a PR budget. It all comes down to the fact that they are our friends as well. I enjoy hanging out with people with the same interests as me and most people who care about art are interesting people!

AMM: Do you think it’s true to say that emerging artists have more chances to be noticed by galleries if they have participated in juried shows?

KH: I don’t think it hurts! But don’t take it personally if you are not chosen… I therefore want to refer to this little segment in the book “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be” by Paul Arden here: “Nearly everybody likes to win awards. Awards create glamour and glamour creates income. But beware. Awards are judged in committee by consensus of what is known. In other words what is in fashion. But originality can’t be fashionable, because it hasn’t as yet had the approval of the committee. Do not try to follow fashion. Be true to your subject and you will be far more likely to create something that is timeless. That’s where the true art lies.”

AMM: Would you say that being a graduate from a prestigious art institute/university gives a serious benefit to an artistic career and opens more opportunities for an artist? Are there any good self-taught artists you might know that we should be looking at?

KH: Absolutely, I think it’s always an advantage to have been in an academy to learn from teachers and fellow artists. There is plenty of time later to be alone in a studio to create magic, a few years with others with same interests can only broaden your mind. Having said that, I don’t think it’s necessarily an impediment to success if an artist hasn’t come from a prestigious institute — what is ultimately most important is talent. And perseverance.

AMM: Is there any advice you would like to share with emerging artists who would like to show their work extensively not only nationally but also on an international level?

KH: There are so many fantastic residencies out there internationally, great opportunities that I only wish I could have had. Use this opportunity to meet others and travel. Also find people who want you well and engage with them, this could be a gallerist, a mentor or other artists that you can trust to share ideas with.

AMM: Do you have your own art collection and what would be your favourite artwork from it? 

KH: Yes, I do and it’s growing. I think you can call yourself a collector the day you don’t acquire an artwork because it fits a certain space in your home but because you fall in love with the piece in itself and just must have it. I don’t have much of a budget…yet…so I am lucky some of the artists give me pieces. Soheila Sokhanvari just gave me one of her crude oil drawings for Christmas that I am mad about.

My husband was given a box set by Norman Foster when he was working on his NY apartment called “Becoming” with images by Ai Wei Wei, that we have been hanging in different formats in our previous Long Island home or when we first moved to London. We were just talking about if we should hang a few of these again in our new apartment, so this piece has a special meaning to us.

AMM: Is there any work of art that most affected you personally and if so, why?

KH: Anselm Kiefer “The High Priestess” that’s in the Astrup Fearnley collection is the piece I am always reflecting back on. Knowledge, books and art in one piece.

AMM: If you had the opportunity to go for a coffee with any artist, either past or present, who would you like to meet and why? 

KH: Anselm Kiefer for sure. But before that it would have been fantastic to meet the Argentinian artist Julio Le Parc, as he is already 88 years old. His retrospective at the Perez Museum was by far my favourite exhibit in 2016, I would love to get to know the person with all these kinetic magnetic ideas, I wish I also could experience the exhibit one more time, it puts you in an artistic trance. Bravo!

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