Catherine McDermott, ICOM UK Co-Chair, talks to Cat Gardiner, owner and curator of TEN in Cardiff.
Cat would you please introduce your gallery to ICOM UK members:
Established in 2010, TEN is a contemporary art gallery specialising in Welsh and Wales-based artists. The private commercial gallery represents emerging and established painters, sculptors, ceramicists and printmakers. The gallery is housed in a converted Victorian coach house in the city centre suburb of Roath and acts as the main exhibition space for the gallery’s artists. We established the gallery to fill a void in the exhibiting and dealing of the art of Wales’s foremost contemporary artists – some of whom had international representation, numerous accolades and works acquired by public collections worldwide – yet no permanent representation and permanent support in Wales. My aim in opening and operating TEN is to actively contribute to and promote contemporary Welsh culture and support contemporary Welsh artists.
And this is the gallery’s reputation, the ‘go-to’ private gallery for the work of the very best contemporary artists in Wales. There is a certain aesthetic and feel to the gallery – I deliberately represent artists who shy away from the typical, cliché Welsh characteristics – dragons, miners, heavy impasto oil paintings of Yr Wyddfa, scenes of Pembrokeshire, sheep and shepherds. The history of visual arts in Wales is landscape-heavy – the land is so sublime and beautiful and has attracted artists over the centuries – and the hangover of the traditional remains. But there’s so much more to Welsh visual culture – and contemporary inspiration of the landscape has produced incredible land artists and sculptors, immersive site-specific theatre productions, and the post-industrial landscape influencing many. TEN artists have a strong Welsh connection but more often than not, this is not discernible in the artworks created – and that has become the gallery’s signature.
What key projects are you developing to build audiences after Covid?
2020 saw the gallery’s best year of business – without being able to physically welcome visitors to the gallery for 90% of the year. The audiences continued to grow throughout COVID – and artworks were sent to all corners of the earth. BUT nothing beats curating exhibitions and inviting audiences to stand in front of art in the flesh.
The gallery’s programme of exhibitions is back in full swing – with solo exhibitions and mixed shows changing every 6 weeks, coupled with themed online-only features. The next few years will see new artists join the gallery’s stable, key projects include presence at UK art fairs, off-site exhibitions and collaborative events. I believe in the organic growth of audiences – continuing to be active both online and in the flesh is the key and that, coupled with longevity and stamina ensures an interested, engaged and sustained audience.
What challenges is TEN facing?
COVID and its hangover hasn’t presented serious challenges for TEN – the benefit of being a one-woman business is the agility and ability to pivot and evolve, which certainly happened in 2020, and for the better.
There are two main challenges in running the gallery – as there always has been over the years – and both are an issue of balance.
The first is maintaining the balance between the curatorial side of the gallery, and the commercial. I seek that perfect balance with each artist represented, each exhibition held and each event the gallery hosts. The operation and continuation of the gallery is reliant on the income generated from sales, but I refuse to let that dictate too much. I’d say that there are three categories of artists on board – those whose artworks sell often, those which sell fairly often and those which rarely sell but strengthen the curatorial vision of the gallery. The art on show must be of a high standard, be interesting to both private clients and public institutions and contribute culturally to the arts in Wales – and be the work of artists that I personally believe in.
The second is linked to the first – the balance between the desired with reality. The desire to curate exhibitions in certain locations, produce books and catalogues, exhibit gallery artists work in Europe and further afield [whether in partnership with a gallery or at international art fairs] – and many more on the list – is controlled by finances and the realities of business.
Maintaining that balance between my two sides – the curator and the businesswoman – challenge me but I firmly believe that it is also my strength.