Whitehot Magazine

November 2009, Interview with Ryan Gander at Frieze Art Fair

Ryan Gander - Frieze Projects Ryan Gander, Frieze Art Fair 2009 in Regent’s Park, London, UK Frieze Projects
Courtesy the artist and Frieze Art Fair 2009 Image credit: Linda Nylind


Lee Johnson talks to Ryan Gander at Frieze Art Fair 2009

Ryan Gander is one of the most exciting young Artists to emerge from London in the past few years. Born in the UK in 1976, Gander studied Interactive Art at Manchester Metropolitan University, followed by a post-graduate in Fine Art at the Jan van Eyck Akademie in Maastricht, and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. 

Gander has exhibited widely and internationally, with a solo show in 2008 at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, which travelled to the South London Gallery and Boijmans Museum in Rotterdam. Exhibitions of note in 2009 include Gander’s solo exhibition The Die is Cast, at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain in Nice, and a group show curated by Richard Wentworth titled From Boule to Braid at the Lisson Gallery. Gander has also had solo shows at the Stedelijk Bureau in Amsterdam in 2003 and 2007, and the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco in 2007. 

Gander has won numerous prestigious awards including; the 2008 Paul Hamlyn Award; the 2003 Prix de Rome for sculpture, and the 2006 Baloise Art Statements Prize at Basel Art Fair. 

Gander’s practice encompasses an incredibly wide range of media including; sculpture, photography, painting, film, intervention and the printed word. He has lectured widely and has also curated exhibitions at Tate Britain (The way in which it landed, Art Now, 2008) and the International 3 Gallery in Manchester (Now then now then, 2004). 

I caught up with Gander at the Frieze Art Fair in Regent’s Park, where he is exhibiting this year in the Lisson Gallery stand, as well as Frieze Projects. Gander was also one of only seven artists selected for this year’s Frieze ProjectsFrieze Projects provides a unique opportunity for the chosen few artists to realise their vision in the context of an internationally respected art fair. This year Mike Bouchet’s installation consisted of a motivational speaker; Ruth Ewan broadcast a collection of political songs named ‘A Jukebox of People Trying to Change the World’ at Frieze via the radio station ‘Resonance FM’; Kim Coleman & Jenny Hogarth filmed Actors on CCTV, and screened the resulting footage within a curtained room; Monika Sosnowska’s intervention consisting of objects penetrating the roof of the Frieze pavilion was removed at the eleventh hour at the request of the Artist; Per-Oscar Leu arranged a seemingly impossible post-humus booking signing by Kafka; and Stephanie Syjco created a buzzy workshop full of fake artworks, which were copied by a group of artists from exhibits in the fair. 

However Gander was the only artist to have the genius concept of inverting the usual relationship of art buyer/ lover and artist, by making the visitor the subject of his artwork. He achieved this by asking visitors to Frieze to choose their favourite artwork, then photographing them admiring it. In so doing the lover of the artwork becomes the subject of a new and unique work of art. The resulting monochrome portraits were printed out digitally, and hung along the corridor at the entrance of Frieze, overlooking visitors to the Fair.


Ryan Gander, Frieze Art Fair 2009 in Regent’s Park, London, UK Frieze Projects
Courtesy the artist and Frieze Art Fair 2009 Image credit: Linda Nylind


Lee Johnson: You’re one of seven artists commissioned by Frieze Projects this year to create a site-specific installation. Did you confer with any of the others selected artists on what you planned to do, or did you all dream up your installations independently? 

Ryan Gander: I spoke to the Curator Neville Wakefield, and discussed how it would work in the context of the fair. But there was no discussion between the Artists. 

LJ: Last year at Frieze the Chapman Brothers charged visitors to paint their portrait. However you are giving the photographs you take of people in front of their favourite Frieze artwork, to the subject. Why did you decide to give the work away for free? 

RG: Because I think I owe it to the people that I photographed. It’s a way of saying thank you to them for creating the title of the artwork. The photograph gets its title from the work of art that each person asks to be photographed in front of. 

LJ: Do you like working with digital photography? Do you think the demise of the Polaroid and traditional photographic techniques is sad?

RG: It doesn’t matter to me. I just want to use the quickest and easiest method, which is digital. 

LJ: Do you feel that your work was infused with a more ‘European’ aesthetic during your time at the Jan van eyck Akademie (Maastricht) and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam? 

RG: It’s funny you should say that. Yes I do. The piece in the Lisson Gallery show curated by Richard Wentworth (‘Componenture – Space Filler (proposal for a motorway service station entrance)' 1998), was a piece I made in Manchester for my Rijksakademie application. It definitely had a modernist aesthetic. 

LJ: In the Lisson Gallery booth at Frieze this year, your work is hung beneath Richard Wentworth’s. Is he an inspiration to/influence on your work?

RG: I admire him. I believe him to be influential to me. He’s managed to stay out of the whole money thing. He’s an intellectual and I have great respect for him. 

LJ: In the Lisson Gallery exhibition ‘Boule to Braid’ curated by Curator and Artist Richard Wentworth earlier this year, you exhibited ‘Componenture – Space Filler (proposal for a motorway service station entrance) from 1998. Wentworth has been described as an ‘archaeological curator’, because of the way he brings together unexpected artistic partnerships. Would you agree with that? 

RG: Richard has a great understanding of art history, and the importance of art history on contemporary art. I think if Artists don’t have an understanding of art history, it’s not that good work is it? I think that’s integral to being an Artist. 

LJ: Who is your favourite to win this year’s Turner Prize?

RG: Every year it’s really hard because you have friends in it, and you’re not in it! At the end of the day it’s a prize, so there has to be a winner. I sometimes think there should be more than one winner, but that’s not possible is it! 

LJ: Well maybe you’ll be selected next year for your Frieze Projects installation!

RG: The Turner prize would be amazing to do, as you get to be in a show with four other artists at Tate Britain, that thousands of people get to see. 

LJ: I really liked Roger Hiorns’ installation in South London – the house full of blue crystals. 

RG: Yes but it was over-publicised. 

LJ: Do you think art fairs are as relevant as museums or galleries, in that they provide an opportunity for people to view so much art in one place, or are they purely commercial? 

RG: I wouldn’t compare an art fair to a museum – I would compare it to a music festival like Glastonbury. It’s like a trade fair. It’s like going to a ski fair to buy skis. 

LJ: Is there anything that you feel stands out at Frieze this year? I felt that the best section is the Frame section, which features new galleries who haven’t shown at Frieze previously. Some of them exhibited at Zoo last year. 

RG: The Frame section feels friendlier, there’s definitely more energy and it’s more approachable than the rest of the fair. Plus you can see work that’s just come out of the studio. It’s exciting to see something that’s just emerged.

LJ: Has your artistic practice i.e. the aesthetic of your work, been effected in any way by the turbulent economy?  

RG: Not really, in the beginning I worried about it, but it had no effect. I don't think the type of collections that buy my work stop collecting, people don’t buy my work for investments, they buy it because they want to own it, share it with others, or take care of it. They are collecting and preserving art history in the making in some way. I guess it would have more effect on artists that make things that sit pretty in people's homes. The things I make are a bit beyond that, very little of what I make looks good, the things I make are by-products of the idea, so the Collector has to fall in love with the idea, not the thing.

LJ: Your practice draws on multiple layers of fact and fiction, and you work in a variety of different media including photography, printed word, film, performance, intervention and sculpture. Is it vital for your life-force and inspiration that you mix things up in the way you do, and keep surprising people?  

RG: Its the nature of art making, it is in fact the only way of making art. I don't trust anyone who starts everyday knowing they will make 'a photo', or only 'a painting' to be an artist. Art has to precede craft otherwise it isn’t 'art', its 'the arts'. I love painting, it makes me sincerely happy, but I can’t do it everyday! I am an artist and I have a job to do, and the process of painting doesn’t fit every idea and starting point (in fact very, very few - only really ones that talk about the history of painting itself). I see being a painter, or a photographer in contemporary art like masturbating a bit, just pleasing yourself, really selfishly, but sharing nothing.

LJ: You were selected for ‘Beck’s Futures’ at the ICA in 2005. Did this help you career-wise at all? Do you think that now Becks Futures is over, there’s something missing and there’s a need for a new competition for young artists?

RG: No. Competitions are bad for young artists; they narrow things down instead of pushing things forwards. When you’re older you can shrug them off as being an institutional excuse for an exhibition with more associated press, but for young artists... they promote competition itself... young artists should really be thinking of what they can contribute to our art history, not making decisions about the construction of work based on what may win a competition. We all need to keep growing, competition doesn't promote growth, it promotes singular strategic decision making... that’s surely not good.

Ryan Gander's upcoming projects include:  

British Subjects / Neuberger Museum / Westchester NY / Group Show / Oct 2009 – Jan 2010;

Malady of Writing / Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona / Barcelona / Group Show / November 2009 ;

TV / Mercer Union / Toronto / Group / November 2009

List / Louvre / Paris / Group Show / November 2009

Tatton Hall Park Biennial – commission

Shortlist for Bishops Square Sculpture Park - Public Art Prize

House on the beach / Frac Nord-Pas de Calais / Dunkirk / Commission

Haus Konstructiv / Zurich / Solo Show / for Zurich Art Prize won in 2009. 



Lee Johnson

Lee Johnson is a London-based critic, Artist Project Manager and PR. Lee graduated from University College London and Bologna University in History of Art & Italian. Lee began her career at Sotheby's, and went on to the Institute of Contemporary Arts and Timothy Taylor Gallery. Lee is now a freelance Project Manager and Publicist for Artists including Alison Jackson and Sacha Newley. Lee also writes regulary for Kultureflash and Art India magazine, and is a Contributor to Saatchi online TV.

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