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WALES ARTS REVIEW

IN CONVERSATION WITH CAT GARDINER

WRITTEN BY SARAH KING


‘I recently read about a New York gallerist who said that galleries should have three kinds of artists. A third that sell really well and often, a third that sell sometimes, and then there is a third that don’t sell, but is what the gallery wants to champion and what the gallerist thinks deserves to be seen and shown. I think that’s quite true about us at gallery ten. We have artists that sell often, but it’s also about what I want people to get used to seeing. The idea of yes, you can buy this, and you can put it on your wall.’

I am meeting Cat Gardiner, the owner and curator of gallery/ten, at her first floor gallery in Windsor Place, Cardiff.

It is a beautiful spring day. The sun shines through the large window that frames her as she sits at her desk in the crisp, white-walled room. Naturally lit, with its high ceilings and Scandinavian minimalism the space is a blank canvas for the art it exhibits, but it also has an inviting, intimate atmosphere.

Cat is like the gallery itself. Cool, intelligent and stylish but warm and welcoming.

We talk about her. About the gallery. About art, and about Wales.

‘When my husband, Andy, and I got married we wanted to buy a piece of art with the money we were given, and we couldn’t find anything we wanted in Cardiff. We had to go to Bath and Bristol to find something to our taste, which is just ridiculous. I didn’t want a landscape of Pembrokeshire or a painting of shepherds.

‘There are so many amazing contemporary artists in Wales, but often they don’t have a platform. They may have representation in London or even internationally, but no representation in Wales, so that was definitely an aim for the gallery.’

Born in Cardiff and educated in Aberystwyth and London, Cat cut her teeth working in a commercial gallery in Cardiff, and eventually launched her own initiative, project ten.

Project/ten was a pop-up gallery, taking over empty shops in the arcades in Cardiff, and showing work by local artists.

‘The reason we called it project/ten was because it started in 2010, and initially we started with ten artists. People I knew, people I had bought work from in the past, friends I thought were fantastic artists.

‘Initially, after I finished my masters, I was looking for work around the Cardiff and Bristol area in the more curatorial side of things. I had some interviews with a museum here, but it wasn’t what I was interested in. I really just wanted to run my own gallery, and that’s how I started.’

After three years of painting empty shops white, and running four successful shows a year, Cat decided to look for a permanent location, and project/ten became gallery/ten.

’I had a massive list of what I wanted. I had post-it notes all over my house with ideal locations and must-haves, so Andy and I started looking around.

‘Having the experience from the pop-up gallery, and learning what worked and what didn’t, I definitely had a strong vision of what I wanted the gallery to be, and what artists I wanted to work with. To be a place where people go, and know what gallery/ten represents. If you are looking for a good piece of contemporary art you know to come here.’

How do you choose the artists you work with?

’Well, there are certain points I always look for. Welsh or Wales based visual art is what we specialise in. We don’t tend to exhibit moving image and photography. Things like video, because on a commercial side it is impossible to sell that kind of art. Photography, again from a business point of view it is a bit of a grey area.

‘Another main aim of the gallery was to have a space for proper contemporary art.

‘Work that doesn’t fit into the other commercial galleries here in Cardiff. There is a constant balance that needs to be kept throughout the gallery. The business and commercial side. I have to ask myself will this sell?

‘This is out fifth year on business , so by now we have a good idea of what our clients like, what they want, what they like to buy and what doesn’t work. There is that side. Then there is also the more curatorial side of the gallery. Being excited about working with a new artist. Finding things I love. It’s always exciting when we have a new artist on board. I can’t wait to see what other people think. What clients think of their work. We have very successful artists who sell well, but there have been people on board whose work I have absolutely loved, but who hasn’t sold a single piece. It really is a balance.’

Even though your artists are all very different, there does seem to be a coherent feel to the gallery. To me it seems very modern and contemporary without being fashionable.

‘Yes, because things come in and out of fashion. I think we have a clear in-house style, for want of a better word, of the kind of work we choose to show. I’ll usually have my eye on a few artist, people I would like to have on board. Artists who are really different from what we already have, but who I think will add something special.’

Do you think it is the more commercial and accessible art that generally gets favoured in other Cardiff galleries?

‘Definitely. If you look around the other commercial galleries there are a lot of artists who make very similar art to each other. Not all of it, by far, but there are those typical Welsh landscapes and scenes of miners. I’m Welsh, but I don’t want a picture of a miner up on my wall.

‘There are some really fabulous, talented Welsh artists who try to do something different and contemporary, but often they just get overlooked in Cardiff.’

The conversation falls on the budget cuts Cardiff Council has recently announced, and how it is generally the performing arts that have been affected, but Cat makes a very interesting point:

‘In Wales, visual arts is very young. We are in the land of song and bards. Cardiff doesn’t have its own contemporary arts gallery or museum, so in that way there is nowhere for the council to make cuts. There has been talk for years about a contemporary arts space, but that’s not likely to happen now is it?

‘As far as visual arts being affected by the budget cuts, it would be a real shame to not have the St David’s Hall exhibiting space because they do so much. They host Welsh Artist of the Year, and they do their mixed shows. I always see work by artists I haven’t heard of before, so I think that would be a real shame.

‘There is a massive lack of visual arts outlets in Cardiff.’

Gallery/ten has recently launched a new venture; kiosk. After focusing mainly of visual and fine art Cat has decided to branch out into ceramics, prints and publications.

Apart from a few chosen objects exhibited at the gallery, this is mainly an on-line enterprise.

‘Doing kiosk was on my list of things I wanted to try this year. I’m really interested to see if people will buy on-line. At the moment you can’t buy a painting through our website, we don’t have that facility, but generally there are lot more sales on-line for art. I wanted to to see if that would be true for us as a gallery too. It is also my way of expanding without physically expanding.

‘If we had a huge space I probably would sneak in more ceramics and sculpture.  Maybe huge installation, because personally I like sculpture and I really like installations and architectural interventions. I love art, but I also love design.

‘The kiosk is a soft way for me to see what could potentially work, and how as a gallery we could expand.’

The current exhibition at gallery/ten is called Spring/Gwanwyn and runs from 7 – 29 March. It is a mixed show of new work by artists represented by the gallery, and it hosts a strong, exciting and versatile collection.

I was particularly drawn to Helen Booth’s dark, abstract landscapes and an intriguing mixed media piece by Pascal-Michel Dubois. Both reminders that art is a process. Created by the artist, but with the viewer as a participant. Mentally assembling the fragmented pieces to make sense of what you are looking at. Finding beauty where it is not always obvious.

Gallery/ten feels like an oasis. Being Welsh, and wanting Welsh art does not have to mean pastiche and romantic idealisation of landscapes and sheep. Welsh craft doesn’t have to be ‘cwtch’ embroidered cushions and lovespoons.

The work exhibited here is exciting, thought-provoking and striking, and the success of gallery/ten is a credit to Cat Gardiner. A young gallerist with the confidence to make big decisions, trust in her own abilities and instincts and a with a genuine love and passion for her work