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Kaspars Groševs, 427 Gallery: ’We show stuff that we believe in, we work with artists that we love and for us not much else matters’

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Anna Slama & Marek Delong, Bludna Loza, 2019 / Photo: Līga Spunde

Natalya Serkova: You run a gallery, and it does look like a gallery space: it is a physical space, it is a white cube with gallery light, and releases exhibitions around six times a year. Every year you work on obtaining funds in order to secure the lease and have been doing so for quite some time. Currently, as I see it, there are two trends that are gaining momentum. One concerns the fact that the exhibitions go beyond the white walls and are done in the most seemingly inappropriate places. The second one concerns the ever-growing dilution of the boundaries between the ‘real’ objects and exhibitions and digitalized or native digital projects. What motivates you to keep this format of the four physical white walls year after year, and how do you determine your professional status?

Kaspars Groševs: At the time I co-opened 427, a small, white, neutral space felt like something that was missing in Riga. I also had an idea to start with a digital space for shows, but it was relatively easy to find a physical space that felt like a more serious first step. Initially, I wasn’t sure how long 427 would last: 4-7 weeks, 4-7 months. Now, after almost 6 years it’s grown to be a part of my and Marta’s artistic practices, but also an important spot in the Baltics map. It’s sort of a base for most of our activities, and it still feels very important to have a real physical space that can be modified and experimented with from show to show. Our backspace is also growing with artifacts from previous shows, the whole space is constantly changing and I love that! Because 427 is not only those 6-8 shows a year, it’s the whole life around it - artists, our activities, the area we are located at, friends, visitors from next door or Australia, people who help us to maintain the space, etc. In a way, we try to nurse a certain local creative community.

The off-space trend is an interesting one and also quite a logical step in the current “over-production” of artists who, of course, want to show their work somewhere. As artists, we’ve had our share of off-space shows and projects. However, with 427 we don’t feel a need to go outside of the space, we’ve done that in the past, it was fun, but our wobbly white cube is easier to maintain, to secure regular opening times, to reuse old materials, etc. A show in a forest or someone’s countryside garage is great fun, but eventually, it’s rarely seen by more than a dozen people and the importance of documentation is bigger than ever. It’s great to see so many wonderful shows around the world through art blogs, but it will still never be better than visiting an actual show, smell the paint, feel the worn-out floors, see work from angles that didn’t catch the photographer's eye, merge with silence and your own thoughts. That said, I’m still not sure how long 427 will last or what shape it might take in the future.

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Elīna Vītola and Amanda Ziemele, Sol LeWitt's WD#719, 2020 / Photo: Līga Spunde
Vitaly Bezpalov: It’s interesting that you noticed that numerous artists who lack gallery spaces move to forests and countryside garages. Basically, by doing so they become carriers of some alternative ideology of showing art, in which documentation begins to play a decisive role. In a certain sense, TZVETNIK is the bearer of the same ideas. The ultimate goal of it can be determined as the democratization of art that can already be exhibited anywhere and then can be seen from any place in the world with the Internet connection. In their works, artists replace the smell of paint with the explicit photogenic, while the effect of presence is created by multiple photos of the details. How could you describe the ideology of 427, and where, in your opinion, the trend towards digitalization of art representation can lead?

KG: My music teacher used to tell me that Schoenberg thought his dodecaphonic music would also lead to a democratization of music, but it was electricity that did it. I love the democratization of art (or at least—its documentation), but I also always keep in mind that behind every image there’s a story of artwork, artist, curator, photographer, anyone else who saw it in the forest that day, etc. These stories often get lost in the relentless stream of images, I find. At least it works like that for me. I think this trend has already led to the creation of a parallel art world which can be seen as a great thing, in a way. Most likely this parallel art world will grow bigger and/or become part of the same old commodity-based art world. In a way, it’s already happening. Perhaps democratization is another word for publicity in this case.

As for ideology, I’m not so keen on ideologies in general. As I said before, I still rather believe in the presence of art. I think our activities are based on relationships we have with artists, and every time it’s completely different. Our ideology is rather a wandering spirit that floats in space. Or maybe our ideology could be “we don’t work with assholes” kind of thing.

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Viktor Timofeev and Alexander Iezzi, Aminals, 2019 / Photo: Liga Spunde
NS: Your comment on the relationships hidden behind art is very interesting. Indeed, we all look at the documentation or visit the gallery opening. Meetings in bars, money issues, psychological problems, fatigue—all this does not fit into the aesthetics of the art that we all are promoting. Highlighting hidden relations in art was a popular method of artistic work in the 90s, Haacke and dozens of other artists built their careers on this. However, this remained just a particular method of working, never applicable to the production of art in general. How do you think it would be possible, in your case, to formalize these ephemeral relations behind art, and is it possible, after all, to integrate them somehow into the aesthetics of the art you show?

KG: I think, what I wanted to say before was that we love mysteries and obscurities in art! Yeah, we might have done things that could be seen as relational aesthetics in a way, but I think this term still is connected more to the formal aspects of art. In a way, we like the fluidity of things and relations and I don’t really think there’s a need to formalize that—it can be seen as a constellation of artists and places that are slowly growing. As it grows the pool of aesthetics grows and changes and mutates. You can see it in motion if you look at different artists we have worked with—the different paths they have, sometimes leading them together in different settings. A beer in Brussels or potatoes in Rotterdam can lead to a show in Riga. And, of course, being in Riga gives our activities another context—in a way we’re in periphery both on a global scale and locally, which is why it’s important for us to have this transnational web of strokes and hints, nods and winks, beers and snacks, shows and everything else in between. We love hosting artists in our physical space but, of course, we couldn’t live also without the web of connections that the internet provides.

VB: We speak about networks of relations, and there is one more interesting feature that they possess: becoming more and more complex and intertwined, these networks make the very concept of an artist less clear. Previously, one could still talk about the criteria of a “real” artist, such as special education, exhibitions in museums and gallery spaces, or publications in the media. Now it all seems to be not working, or rather, start to work in some new way. Plus to that, an artist today acts like a multi-tool, for example, you guys are at the same time artists, gallery owners, PR managers, etc., etc ... In your opinion, is it possible to identify the criteria of a “real” artist today, and if so, what will these criteria be? And one more thing: when you host exhibitions in your gallery, do you make it more as artists, or curators, or gallery owners, or … maybe as someone else?

KG: There is a really nice sentence on the building of the Contemporary Art Center in Vilnius: “Everyone is an artist, but only an artist knows it”. I forgot whose quote it was. Indeed, in recent years I’ve found that some of the most interesting things are done by people who aren’t technically artists (e.g. without arts education—sometimes we work with people who don’t really call themselves artists or who haven't studied art and it’s always very exciting or even surprising. However, we must be careful not to exploit their rather pure creativity by putting it into the so-called contemporary art narrative and categories, as it’s quite often been done by curators of bigger events like biennales.

But all the categories are slowly but surely blurring out—it’s not even a question of who is a “real” artist today, but who’s doing what and how and why. I don’t mind this blurry situation, we work with all sorts of creatives as long as our interests match. And the same could be said about ourselves—I’m not sure who we are. Perhaps in the morning, we are artists, in the afternoon we are curators who run a space and in the evening we try to be anything else.

What’s clear is that there is a massive overproduction of art, the field is oversaturated with so-called professionals and amateurs, outsiders and insiders, celebrities turned artists, housewives, and bankers and so on and so forth. And there will always be different degrees of the art world—every institution and space that exhibits art probably has an idea of what “real” art/artists are.

In our case, we don’t really care who is or isn’t a “real” artist—we care if the art they create is subjectively good or not and if there is something more to it than meets the eye and if the person creating it understands what we are trying to do or not. I’m 100% sure there are a lot of people in Riga who think that what we do isn’t a “real” art. But we also don’t care. We show stuff that we believe in, we work with artists that we love and for us not much else matters.

Of course, now, about two months later since we started this e-conversation all my answers seem to be turned inside out or outside in. Today we see a lot of physical spaces struggling or closing down and everything that’s happening in art is happening online because that’s almost the only medium we have left with. Having a physical space currently feels like an unnecessary luxury yet with all the online content and the endless streaming some might feel like they are getting tired of all of this. Even though our only window to the outside is currently the internet, we still light up our physical space at nights so that at least a dozen people might have a physical art experience, be it only a quick glimpse at Sol LeWitt’s work that we are currently showing. It’s impossible to see how all of this will resolve or if it will resolve, but it seems that it will change a lot of things—the art world and art market, the ways artists work and present their work, existence of independent art spaces, and so on. But with everyone posting content online and offering digital previews, streams, etc. we might become very tired soon and longing for a quiet moment alone in an actual art gallery or—on the contrary—an opening full of chattering and cheap wine. I think the actual physical experience of art in space will become more precious and perhaps even endangered, we might return to exhibitions at garages, living rooms, kitchens and very personal experience that is shared by very few people. It will be registered online, because that is undoubtedly the best archive of contemporary culture. But it will be so much more important to people who can experience art in person. But before that, we must live online, so I really hope the online interaction with the audience will change gradually to more inventive and exciting ways. I hope for more personal encounters online.

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427 / Photo: Ira-Brut

Kaspars Groševs / 427

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