art

Meet Jo Stella-Sawicka, Director of the Soon-To-Be Launched Goodman Gallery London

As the Goodman Gallery gears up for opening its London space in October 2019, we sat down to chat with its newly appointed director, Jo Stella-Sawicka.

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Jo Stella-Sawicka | House and Leisure

Nine years ago, Jo Stella-Sawicka joined Frieze – one of London’s foremost annual art fairs and platforms. Now she’s leaving her post as Frieze’s artistic director to take on a new challenge: as a director in Goodman Gallery's leadership team as they launch a London space.

The gallery will be housed in East Mayfair’s Cork Street, joining a plethora of prominent galleries housed in The Pollen Estate. It’ll be Goodman’s first foray into a permanent gallery space abroad, adding to its stable of Cape Town and Joburg galleries. It’s also a significant statement about Goodman’s belief in the future of showcasing and selling South African art: Europe is the place to be.

Jo Stella-Sawicka On Her Career To Date, and Plans For the Goodman In London:

Before we celebrate your new appointment, let’s take stock of your incredible tenure at Frieze. What are you most proud of during your time there?

Without doubt, I am most proud of establishing Frieze Sculpture: London’s largest free exhibition of outdoor art held over the summer months at the Regent’s Park. Unlike the fairs, which only last for a week, this show reaches nearly 1 million visitors over the summer period, and is now considered an annual fixture of the London summer season. Financial Times art critic Jackie Wullschläger recently wrote: ‘The free outdoor sculpture display staged for three months every summer […] is Frieze’s real contribution to London’. We’ve been very excited to be able to include artists from across the world. Last year’s highlight was the emerging South African artist Haroon Gunn-Salie, who presented an incredibly powerful, political work.

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What will Goodman Gallery’s vision in London be?

Having worked closely with London galleries over the last nine years while I’ve been at Frieze, I can see that Goodman Gallery will add something new to the increasingly diverse agenda of London and the UK’s art scene. We are observing an important shift towards a more global viewpoint in recent years. 

With a permanent presence in London, Goodman Gallery will be able to facilitate even deeper engagement with the global conversations the gallery has championed in the past 10 years under Liza Essers’ ownership, particularly considering the southern hemisphere.

Why is London such an important location for art, and for Goodman?

London is the centre of the European art market. It’s where the defining auction moments happen, and where many artists' markets and reputations are established. 

London is also home to a huge range of nationalities, making the city uniquely placed for shared histories and experiences to be explored within the art world. It’s an avenue of curatorial research, which has been at the heart of Goodman Gallery since Liza Essers bought the gallery in 2008 and championed ongoing curatorial initiatives, such as South-South and In Context. Expanding this activity to London will enhance the visibility of Goodman Gallery's artists in a sustained and meaningful way.

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What is most exciting for you about South African art at the moment?

South African artists are no longer considered solely from a geopolitical perspective. They are entering the mainstream art market with serious visibility. There is potential for younger artists to make significant impact on the international scene, and that I find very exciting. 

Artists like Haroon Gunn-Salie, Gabrielle Goliath and Mikhael Subotzky are all making work that has a global resonance. For example, at this year’s Venice Biennale, Gabrielle Goliath was selected for the highly respected, incubator Future Generation Prize. It has also been demonstrated in Tracey Rose’s powerful video as part of the South African Pavilion at the 2019 Venice Biennale

The resurgence of significant contemporary voices in the South African scene and witnessing artists is thrilling to see. It’s also indicative of a shifting terrain specifically with women artists, who are increasingly valued on a local and global stage.  

Sue Williamson's contribution to South African art has been known for some time, but finally marked in recent years, from displaying seminal work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on a solo booth at Frieze Masters in 2014 to having a major exhibition at the Apartheid Museum in 2017. This year, Williamson has featured work at the 4th Kochi-Muziris Biennale and Zeitz MOCAA, and will exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art as part of the exhibition I Am: Contemporary Women Artists of Africa (19 June 2019-15 March 2020). Next year, she will have an important work at the highly anticipated Fondazione Merz show, Push the Limits.

Rose transformed performance art in South Africa in the ’90s. Her career is now shifting into a new gear, with her having taken up a position as Senior Lecturer at the University of the Witwatersrand. She created new, major works for Documenta 14 and Performa 17, as well as for this year's Sharjah Biennial and Venice Biennale.

Williamson and Rose have used these opportunities to continue to push their practices in ambitious directions. Both artists have recently had work acquired by Tate in London.

Which artists are you most looking forward to working with in your new role?

I look forward to working closely with the full spectrum of the gallery's artists from around the world: South Africa and the continent at large, as well as from the African Diaspora, the Middle East, South America and the USA. 

I am especially thrilled to be working with the next generation of artists who haven't had substantial visibility in the UK, like Nolan Oswald Dennis, Haroon-Gunn Salie, Gabrielle Goliath and Misheck Masamvu. Many of these artists have achieved success in Southern Africa and are now ready for the next level of visibility. 

I also very much look forward to building on the reputations of mid-career and established artists in the Goodman stable, many of whom have received significant international acclaim but are also yet to achieve substantial visibility in London; Candice Breitz, Shirin Neshat and Alfredo Jaar being prime examples. 

What do you believe will be crucial for Goodman to be truly impactful in London?

The driving force behind the celebrated curated sections Sex Work and Social Work at Frieze was to create space to highlight overlooked women artists. They may have had incredibly significant careers, but for various reasons – including age, gender, race or politics – did not experience the same level of visibility or success as their male counterparts.

I consider Goodman Gallery to be well placed to continue to push the envelope in London and create an agenda for change, so that we can see artists from the African continent participating more fully in the global art scene. We are living in an exciting moment where the art market and institutions are increasingly reflecting a more diverse and pluralistic version of art history.

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Art is…

Everywhere.

The power of art is…

Its ability to change the way people think and feel about the world.

Follow Jo Stella-Sawicka and Goodman Gallery on social media:
Instagram: @goodman_gallery and @jostellasawicka
Twitter: @Goodman_Gallery and @JostellaJo