Gallery Profile: Barnard Gallery
Founded in 2010 by Christiaan Barnard, the Barnard Gallery is home to a small but select group of contemporary artists, both talented newcomers and more established artists. In the few years since it was established, highly successful solo shows, as well as diverse and thoughtfully curated group exhibitions have solidified the gallery’s place on the South African art scene and built a loyal following of collectors. Art fairs have increasingly become a feature of the gallery schedule, with participation in the FNB Joburg Art Fair (2012-2018), Cape Town Art Fair (2013-2018), START London (2018), VOLTA Basel (2018), AKAA (Also Known as Africa, 2017-2018), VOLTA NY (2017) and 1:54 Contemporary African Art Fair, London (2016-2017). In this interview with Omenka, the owner/director, Christiaan Barnard, discusses the evolution of the gallery, plans for the future, and the gallery’s participation in the 2019 edition of the Cape Town Art Fair.
Barnard Gallery is now in its ninth year. How has the gallery evolved since inception, and what are your future plans for it?
Barnard has, since its inception, been dedicated to supporting and developing the careers of emerging and mid-career artists from South Africa. More recently, this has expanded to include artists from other parts of Africa, as well as Europe. Over the past nine years, we have had the privilege of collaborating with a number of exceptional practitioners, whom we have supported and whose careers we have either launched or developed. To date, we have presented 28 solo exhibitions and no fewer than 20 curated group shows. During this time, the gallery has also participated in over 20 art fairs, seven of which have been in world art capitals, such as London, Paris, and New York.
In addition to Barnard’s exhibition projects, the gallery also has an active publishing program, selected titles of which have, to date, been added to the special library collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Pratt Institute, and the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, amongst others. As we work with more artists from Europe and the African diaspora in the future, there is the possibility of the gallery expanding to include another space.
In the last few years, South Africa has become a hub for contemporary African art, with a growing number of professionally run galleries and art fairs. What would you say distinguishes Barnard Gallery from the myriad of art galleries in the country?
We are fortunate to have a number of very good galleries in South Africa, each with its own particular strengths and “culture.” This was not the case 15 years ago and is indicative of the substantial growth we have witnessed in the industry since then. Barnard has earned a reputation for excellence and quality in its focussed programming dedicated to supporting emerging and mid-career contemporary artists, specifically, painters and photographers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Europe. Since the beginning, we have committed to collaborating with these artists in a direct and relational manner that goes beyond merely presenting an exhibition of their work every two years. Another distinguishing feature is Barnard’s ongoing publishing activities, which extend beyond the production of mere exhibition catalogues to the making of limited edition publications (more akin to an artist’s book), which are by nature collectibles in their own right.
Congratulations on your ongoing group exhibition Monochrome, an exhibition of painting, photography, drawing, video installation, and collage by selected artists. Please tell us about it and how the show came to be.
With a long and rich history in art making down through the ages, the notion and theme of the monochrome and, even more specifically, works in black and white, has prompted many exhibitions curated with this concept in mind. A particularly inspiring example was Monochrome: Painting in Black and White presented at the National Gallery, London, in October 2017. This exhibition was the inspiration for our show, which, though obviously significantly more modest, nonetheless explores the same theme, though we decided to include different mediums. It is fascinating how much variety can exist within monochromatic works despite the limitation of colour—a fact which is made very much apparent in the paintings, photographs, drawings, and collages collected for this exhibition. The reduction of colour only serves to heighten the idiosyncrasies of individual artists: their use of brushwork, mark making, gradations of tone, and their compositional logic.
Today, with increasing globalisation, the number of contemporary African artists engaging in digital art is growing rapidly. Do you think that with this embrace, African art is losing its characteristic quality stemming from the magical, a focus on materiality, and the intimacy of process?
Digital is here to stay whether one likes it or not. In fairness, despite the doubters, the medium does bring with it exciting new possibilities which just weren’t possible ten years ago. That said, there is a lot to be said for materiality and intimacy of process, whether that be in an African, Eastern, or Western context. To say that it would be a great loss were these traditions to be replaced or overshadowed by new technologies would be an understatement. But I remain optimistic; art made by hand will endure, as will books—I hope!
Today, the proliferation of art fairs around the world has heightened focus on commercialisation. What is your opinion about this?
In the past ten years in particular, art fairs, for better or worse, have become an integral part of the arts industry, and any gallery wanting to compete on a “world stage” and develop their artists’ careers must inevitably participate in these events. It is, however, a very costly business—particularly for those galleries geographically removed from the main art hubs of London, New York, Paris, and so on. The pressure on galleries and artists alike to “perform” has led to a heightened focus on commercialisation, which, it can be argued, is fundamentally at odds with the true nature of creativity and genuine artistic practice. That said, these events represent significant opportunities to expose an artist’s work to increasingly larger audiences and for galleries to forge relationships with new collectors who may not otherwise have entered their domain. The international art fair circuit has, in the past few years, accelerated at an unprecedented rate, with an average of one art fair taking place every four to five days in one or other city in the world in 2018! Whether or not this is sustainable for both galleries and their artists remains to be seen. For now at least, the art fair model is central to the industry and a necessary platform for any gallery wanting to establish its brand and reputation.
Barnard recently participated in the Investec Cape Town Art Fair; which artists did the gallery present and what was your perception of this seventh edition of the event?
Barnard has contributed to this important event on the arts industry calendar since its inception. From what was a somewhat awkward, almost faltering start in 2013, the art fair has gone to establish itself as arguably one of the more significant art fairs on the African continent, and it is certainly one of the highlights of our gallery schedule. This year we noted an increase in visitors in general and those from abroad in particular. There was also a significant increase of international galleries participating in the art fair, particularly those from Europe. Sales were up on previous years, the larger percentage of which can be attributed to international collectors.
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