Donatien Grau: You are a very specific character, being a gallerist, having trained as an artist, and also being a part-time curator…
Maureen Paley: I wanted to go into depth in my relationships with artists, to play a role in terms of giving opportunities for work to develop over time. My education and early curatorial work helped me to begin to achieve this. It also seemed that if I were able to place work in the world with the help of collectors and museums, this would allow more work and ideas to flourish. A kind of continuum could be created, and that made sense to me in shaping the gallery.
I was motivated by how many of the greatest gallerists, collectors and museum directors understood their nurturing role in the early days. They were often taking risks that would be parallel to the risks the artists were taking. They had a wish to assist artists in order to make things possible. I read extensively about the first embryonic emergence of modern art and contemporary art as we know it, and I found inspiration in having knowledge of this history. That, coupled with an art history course I took with Carol Duncan at Sarah Lawrence College exploring the Belle Epoch and art’s emergence from “1850 to the Present,” left a lasting impression that informs me to this day. I did curate shows in public spaces when I first began, and would now say that this orientation finds expression within the gallery program.
DG: Aside from a few crucial figures from the past, born in the 1940s, like Hamish Fulton, it’s fascinating to see that almost all of your artists were born between, let’s say, 1963 and 1976. How come?
MP: In recent years I have been drawn to artists such as Michael Krebber, Stephen Prina, David Salle and James Welling. I’ve almost gone into the back catalog, as it were, with people who I admired and found fascinating when I began the gallery in the mid-1980s. I was aware of their work when they were showing in spaces in New York or Europe, though they didn’t show with me at that time when I began. I now represent Tim Rollins and K.O.S. who I had shown in the late 1980s, and Liam Gillick who I showed in the early 1990s when the gallery did not yet represent artists and functioned more like a project space.
I do think that having the gallery for some time now — next year it will be thirty years old — you start to see a trace of the unconscious mind, in terms of how you shape things — who you choose to work with. It is rewarding if there is any admiration between the artists.
DG: What’s your reaction to the extreme success of artists such as Wolfgang Tillmans or Gillian Wearing, who you took on when they were up-and-coming? The same is true for Rebecca Warren…
MP: When you select someone that you believe has potential, you want to see how the work can grow and encourage it. It’s then exciting when a greater consensus reflects appreciation that is diverse and worldwide.