New ‘Art Seen’

There comes a time when things fall right into place: not coincidentally but because all the strings you’ve pulled have come together and tied into a knot, to create the foundations for your aspirations to materialise.

Meeting Maria Stathi on the occasion of the opening of her new gallery next Friday, there’s no doubt that her path has deemed it the right time to launch a new approach to Nicosia’s art scene.

Limassol-born, Stathi was raised in Athens and eventually made London the location that would drive her academic endeavours.

Holding a passion for relationships built with artists through a curatorial perspective, Stathi initially studied Architecture of Historical Spaces and went on to do a Master’s degree on ‘Art and Space’ at Kingston University.

“Then I did a couple of short courses at Saint Martins on curating, collecting contemporary art, history of art and I started working as an intern at the Max Wigram Gallery and began collaborating with Anthony Reynolds,” Maria tells me over coffee.

“I was doing five art fairs a year: Miami, Art Madrid, Artissima in Torino, etc. and had a very close collaboration with the artists,” recalls Maria.

Five years later, she took a sabbatical and moved to Athens, where she worked for Art Athina as the editor of the fair’s catalogue and overseeing parallel events.

Still unsettled and unsure of her future in Athens, when her six-month contract ended, it was Maria and her husband’s Cypriot origins that led her to return to the island for what she initially thought was a holiday.

By 2010, Maria was working alongside Nicos Pattichis, art collector and owner of Omikron Gallery. It was there that she began spreading her know-how locally.

Speaking on her role as the director of the gallery involved in compiling Pattichis’ collection, she says, “The only restriction I had was that I had to represent Cypriot artists… I decided it was the right time for a change, all the while keeping my home in Athens.

“Two years with that gallery was an amazing experience: choosing the artists, curating all the shows – everything I did was from scratch. I met the local artists, I did studio visits and I had a contact with them. One artist introduced me to another and a beautiful circle was developed.”

And it was once Omikron closed down that Maria took care of loose ends, finalising the Master’s degree on the History of Art she had started in 2008.

Reversed approach

Almost two years ago, Maria began developing the idea to bring together all her knowledge and experience into her own, individual space.

Opening next Friday evening, Maria’s new gallery space on Makarios Avenue aspires to approach the local art scene in a pioneering manner for the local front and based on two pillars.

“You have Art Seen projects and Art Seen editions. The projects will be non-profit, curatorial projects exhibitions, of which two to four exhibitions a year will be long-term,” reveals Maria.

“The Art Seen limited editions and multiples will be carried out with artists whose work I really believe in and with whom I have collaborated in the past. I have commissioned 13 artists to create limited-edition prints. By limited edition, I mean it may be 10 editions only but each one may have a unique variation, it may be a series and may not be an ‘edition’, as such,” continues Maria.

Admittedly, her approach is somewhat reversed: “I should have done an exhibition with an artist and then at the end, produce an edition. I started the other way around, so with some of these artists I will collaborate to create a show or project in my space afterwards.”

In her eyes, the inauguration of her space through a group exhibition of the local and international artists she has selected to work with on the limited editions is more impactful.

“It’s a good introduction,” she says, “I think that each work really represents the artist but at the same time it creates a very strong dialogue between all of them.”

Based on the work line each artist is currently working on, the long-term collaboration established through commissioning the limited editions is a challenging one, on both sides of the divide: asking artists to create limited prints was a process of internalising what each of them was working on and establishing a common approach to the actual results. “It was challenging for the artists and tricky for me because I didn’t know what the result would be but we were in constant conversation about the works,” says Maria.

The limited editions give an additional dimension to what Maria is trying to accomplish through her innovative space.

“It’s not just about the space, it’s also about the relationship built with the artist and this is what I love; I have the need of producing and making something like this… I don’t really represent artists as a gallery would but I’m in a close relationship: they can call me any time and ask me about certain things because I have the experience so I can give them guidelines for certain aspects,” concludes Maria.

Every few months Maria hopes to produce another edition, with another artist who will in turn have the opportunity to show his or her work in the gallery space.

As the limited editions grow and the list of artists expands, the idea is also for Maria to travel to international art fairs and represent her artists with their work.

“I’ll travel to the Multiplied Art Fair hosted by Christie’s for the last five years in London, at the same time as the Frieze Art Fair… I really like their approach and I think it’s important to be part of that because that will give me the opportunity to show the 13 artists, the works that were produced over the past 18 months and as it specialises in limited editions and a lot of people will visit because of the Frieze Art Fair, some doors could open,” while all editions and art work will also be for sale online at www.artseeneditions.com

Implementing a new approach

Throughout our conversation, Maria emphasises the changes the contemporary art world is currently facing, both locally and internationally.

“Even abroad, you can see that some spaces cannot just work as galleries as they used to. Most of them are becoming project spaces, or have collaborations with other galleries, museums and art fairs or have experimental spaces aside the gallery, they can’t restrict themselves to the gallery space anymore,” explains Maria.

“It’s radical the way things have changed and what the needs are now, and this is why I believe that there is a bigger need for a space to be able to move along with artworks, as opposed to having a static space,” adds Maria.

Locally, commissioning and working with limited editions is a new concept, yet abroad it’s a well-established one.

“It’s not like I came up with this new innovative concept,” continues Maria, “but I think it’s a good approach, especially now with the economic crisis… I know lots of people would love to buy an artwork but they don’t because they can’t afford them.

“This is a way to buy something that you love and something that over time, the price will increase, considering editions, prices increase much, much faster.”

Introducing a new concept but also fighting an economic crisis is then a paramount challenge. Yet Maria is confident.

“It’s super difficult but challenging at the same time here. I think this is what intrigued me to continue, because there’s something solid but no one is really doing things… even though there are spaces and galleries and they work differently, I feel that spaces here don’t really represent the artists as such,” adds Maria without diminishing the plethora of spaces available and the importance of having polyphony.

* Published in The Cyprus Weekly Newspaper March 2015

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