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Syson Gallery

15 May 13 words: Wayne Burrows
"I always had an inkling that it would be possible to run a gallery here, and I had the desire to do it"
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Jennie Syson in Syson Gallery - photo by David Parry

What led to your decision to open a commercial art gallery?
I’ve always had the idea that I wanted to open a gallery. It’s been great working freelance over the last few years, and it’s been especially satisfying to be able to do that in Nottingham, where there are lots of things going on outside the big institutions. So I always had an inkling that it would be possible to run a gallery here, and I had the desire to do it. But it’s only now that the time seemed right and the chance presented itself.

I gather it’s happening with some help from Antenna?
It’s had a long gestation, but it came about was when all the discussions about the Creative Quarter were first going on. I’d been to meetings about it and I’d always wanted to meet Craig, the director of Antenna, so it seemed like a good time to ask him for some advice over a coffee. When I asked what he thought of the possibility of opening a commercial gallery in the Creative Quarter, he mentioned that he just happened to have a building I could use.

And that’s made it possible to do this now?
Yes. The building is scheduled for demolition so I don’t know exactly how long we’ll have it. But I’ve learned how many interesting things can happen in unwanted buildings from other projects like Moot, Backlit, Trade, Surface Gallery and One Thoresby Street.

What sort of price range of work will be on offer?
I hope that over the first few shows there’ll be a bit of everything, from prints, drawings and editions starting around £80 to a lot more for a one-off original paintings and sculpture. I think the scene here is strong, mature and interesting enough to attract interest from other places and collectors outside Nottingham too.

Jennie Syson in Syson Gallery - photo by David Parry

Jennie Syson in Syson Gallery - photo by David Parry


Will you be mainly showcasing Nottingham artists?
The first shows are mainly Nottingham artists, but that isn’t a policy for every show. It just makes sense that the gallery should begin with the work of artists I know. Geoff Diego Litherland and Yelena Popova exhibit regularly all over the country and abroad. And John Newling obviously has a major international profile, as seen in his show at Nottingham Contemporary. So I wouldn’t want to give an impression that they’re artists who are only known locally, but they do have deep roots here.

You’ve been part of that scene for a long time...
My first job was as a project manager at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester where I was organising a conference at the British Museum which talked about the international Chinese art market and involved a lot of very big collectors. It was very commercially focused and I ran away from it because it terrified me. But now I’m opening a commercial gallery, so I can’t help thinking I’ve come full circle.

What brought you back to Nottingham?
After leaving Manchester and doing an MA at the Royal College in London I worked in Venice and had a residency in Iceland, at the Hafnarhus, the main Contemporary Art Gallery there. I also worked with an artist named Thorvaldur Thorsteinsson and he taught me a lot about art in the public realm, and I met Paul McCarthey and Jason Rhoades when they were building a giant Macy’s store for a festival. When I did come back, the idea was to apply some of the things I’d learned in Iceland here.

Jennie Syson in Syson Gallery - photo by David Parry

Jennie Syson in Syson Gallery - photo by David Parry

Was this how the Hinterland festival you ran came about?
That was a three year programme with thirty different projects, each representing one of the thirty tributaries of the River Trent. Obviously that was all about Nottingham and it gave me the confidence to go freelance and get involved in some other exciting artists’ projects like reviving Sideshow as a fringe festival to the 2010 British Art and setting up Nottingham Visual Arts magazine with Andrew Cooper.

So you became an editor as well as a curator and project manager?
I fell into that by accident. I never wanted to be an editor but found a way to apply my skills to the role. I think it’s important that NVA continues, but you’ll probably see more guest editors in future. Opening this gallery is my way of getting back to curating again.

Do you feel that commercial galleries can sometimes be intimidating for people?
I’ve thought a lot about how to present it and it won’t be the model where you have to ring a bell and someone dressed in black who never smiles comes to open the door. That’s not going to work in Nottingham. We’ll have a big shop window and someone inside who is happy to have a chat with you.

So you’re looking forward to this latest challenge?
The most important thing is that there are artists here who are not ‘emerging’ anymore, they’ve already emerged, and they have fantastic portfolios and a wide range of professional experience, but it isn’t bringing them the income it should. What’s great about Nottingham, and this has always been the case, is that if something isn’t happening, there will always be people who’ll get together and say, “right, let’s do it ourselves.” This gallery is no different to that really.

Syson Gallery, 9 – 11 Beck Street, Nottingham NG1 1EQ. Opening times Wednesday – Sunday, 12 – 6pm.

Syson Gallery website

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