Interview with Hannah Barry Gallery’s Hannah Barry (Founder and Director)

Published Mar, 2015

Hannah Barry. Image courtesy of the gallery.

Tell us about your background and how you set up the gallery.

I started visiting Peckham in 2006 and met Shaun McDowell. He curated a group exhibition here that I really liked. After some time he invited me to a caretaking situation he was involved in, which was located in an old, grade II listed building very close to my current space. I loved the atmosphere there and visited every weekend. At some point, it was decided the artists who were working in that space would be presenting an exhibition, which I was invited to cooperate on. I didn’t have any defined role — I was just helping out, mostly with administration. This first exhibition turned into a whole series of exhibitions and that period lasted for about a year. Eventually, the space ceased to be available due to redevelopment, which prompted me to open my own gallery.

What does it take to set up a gallery like yours?

A great deal of courage and perseverance. It takes a great deal of courage for people to do anything on their own in their own terms because it’s not just about the actual act of doing the thing or deciding to do it or finding the practical means to do it. It’s about standing there with your own ideas and then standing by those things. One needs to try as hard as one can to keep positive and have a good sense of humour.

You opened the gallery in March 2008 — what was the impact of the crisis that came several months later on your emerging venture?

We certainly felt it, but we didn’t feel it perhaps as hard as other galleries or dealers who have been in the field for much longer as our business was at such a nascent stage then. I think to some extent we feel now a greater atmosphere of austerity!

What proved to be instrumental in developing your programme?

There is no greater experience than the experience of making costly and painful mistakes. As time goes on you learn from those things and you don’t repeat them. It also takes time to develop one’s direction — I would say it took us first five years to do that. A gallery is always work in progress and we’re always working on improving and doing a better job. For me, success is a feeling of being in the consistent cycle of progress.

How do you select artist/works for exhibitions?

Intuition. We work with the core of artists with whom I started and there were a few additions over the years. We try to stay aware by reading and seeing as much as possible at exhibitions, art fairs, project spaces, visits abroad, online, etc. We don’t have a methodology to it — we are just two decision-makers here, me and another co-director, Diana.

Do you exclusively represent artists you show?

We represent some and then we work on projects and exhibitions with collaborators, other galleries, and partners; everything is case-by-case and there isn’t a specific preferred model. We have all sorts of different situations and we try our best to make sure that they work for both sides.

I believe the more the work gets out there, the better. Whoever we partner we make a great effort to participate at the highest possible level.

How has the arts landscape changed since you opened the gallery?

In a fantastic way — there’ve been more and more people getting involved and it becomes more and more international — global!

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