» On the continent I would be blown away by the artistic talent and skill that I was seeing, and yet, in Europe, the US, and further afield, I would see very little evidence of this. I came to realise that was generally the rule rather than the exception. »
– Touria El Glaoui
Olivia Anani : What in your opinion is the greatest challenge to the current fair model, and how to lead it into the future?
Touria El Glaoui : Growth. I feel fairs may be growing too large and losing sight of the most important aspects for their being: supporting galleries and artists. It must be realised that supporting the galleries and their artists through close and attentive relationships is the best way to ensure you meet their needs and the needs of the artists. The art world is changing rapidly, so you can only be adaptable to these changes if you communicate with them constantly. Likewise, I feel if growth takes precedence over encouraging an atmosphere and environment of support, a fair can feel like a detached supermarket for art, which is not sustainable or how art is to be experienced in the slightest.
To quote Thor Shannon of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise in the following article, what is your take on the future of the art market as a whole? “It’s 2028. There are literally infinite [Kusama] Infinity Rooms across the globe. Every city has its own Hauser & Wirth Hotel and respective art fair (#ArtChernobyl). Gagosian opens a new exhibition in one of its 8,000 global locations every hour. A contemporary art evening sale is held at Christie’s every other night; every other other night, Sotheby’s holds theirs. Phillips only hosts day sales, but every day.
Every television network has its own show set in the art world. Every museum has hosted, per a globally ratified agreement, at least one Beyoncé and/or Jay-Z video. Montreal is the new Auckland, which was the new Helsinki, which was the new Cairo, which was the new Berlin. Marina Abramović has turned permanently to stone. The Venice Biennale happens underwater” [or in space?].
Thor Shannon has certainly made a point and I have to agree with him.
But I think this is only a future we will see if the current structures and individuals of positions of power in the art world go unchallenged. I am hoping, and I feel, we are beginning to see shifts in the art world. I am slowly seeing more mutually beneficial relationships and collaborations emerge, ensuring smaller, independent spaces can participate in and challenge established structures. In terms of collecting and the auction houses, I think we still have a long way to go. For any change to occur, the consumerist approach to collecting needs to be altered. Collectors must begin to realise, and those selling art need to stress, that collecting is a vital buttress and support for the future of arts and culture to flourish. It can be a financial investment, but this is not where priorities should lie as these priorities damage the arts to no end.
One common thread between all your respective fairs, is a clear interest and orientation towards the future, and the desire to champion younger artists, what does this represent to you?This is all about being accessible and sustainable. Why not champion younger and emerging artists, curators and creatives? You must support them if you want them to thrive and become an integral part of the ecosystem. Typically, younger and emerging artists also command lower prices, providing a doorway into collecting for younger or less established collectors, so they can become part of this ecosystem as well.
How do you balance the current interests of the art market (such as current successful gallery programs and artists) with your personal choices, battles and beliefs? This will always be a challenge, but it is all about being adaptable and flexible to ensure you strike the right balance at every fair. Our primary concern is that the galleries we choose to be a part of 1-54 demonstrate that they confront and challenge preconceived and colonial misconceptions concerning the arts of Africa and its diaspora. This concern is never brushed over for the sake of including a successful gallery or artist, they are all held up to the same standard.
Let us talk about gender for a minute. As a woman, what was the biggest hurdle of your career? Leaving the comfort of a full-time role in a completely different sector to establish a business (1-54). Everyone will always have doubts at this time, but I feel as women, encouragement is not as forthcoming and this can be even more of a challenge.
What advice would you give your younger self? Be true to yourself and never doubt the importance of self-care on this extraordinary journey.
What are the challenges as a woman, of operating in the business side of art, rather than a curatorial or scholarly side? There are very few women in positions of power on the business side of art. Over the last few years I have realised that most the women who are in the top positions made their positions. They have had to leave the structures that did not give them the opportunity to thrive in order to make their own businesses and spaces in which they could reimagine and reconfigure what they believe needs to happen.
Do you encounter challenges to your authority and leadership, and how do you deal with it? I stand firm. You must believe that you have every right to take up and be in the space and position you are in, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
There is strength in numbers. Who are the women in the arts who inspire, or have inspired you in your career? Koyo Kouoh (Founder of RAW Material Company and now Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Zeitz MOCAA), Laetitia Catoir (Director of Blain Southern) as well as Sheena Wagstaff of the MET Breuer. All of them were instrumental in the becoming of 1-54 and I continue to turn to them for support and advice.
What do you think needs to be done to increase this strength of numbers? In terms of mentorship, professional groups…? Mentorship is a practice that takes consistent dedication and I am still learning how to be the best mentor I can be, but I have no doubt of its importance. Crucially, I feel ensuring you are approachable and available is key for those who want advice to come to you if they want to.
Can you tell us about the genesis of the fair’s existence?
How did you come to lead it? On the continent I would be blown away by the artistic talent and skill that I was seeing, and yet, in Europe, the US, and further afield, I would see very little evidence of this. I came to realise that was generally the rule rather than the exception. I hoped that 1-54 would shake things up and draw wider attention to contemporary artists from Africa and the African diaspora, providing a much deserved (and overdue) platform.
Where do you see the fair in 10 years? The vision has always been to create an extensive global network through 1-54 and now with establish editions in three continents we are really beginning to see this materialise, so I hope this community continues to thrive. Our responsibility now is to nurture the fair so that it can continue to transform and push beyond even its own ‘boundaries’.
In SWAG high profiles issue 1