Meet the Galleries
Circle Art Gallery
Circle Art Agency was established in 2012 in Nairobi, Kenya to provide the first professional arts advisory service to individual and corporate collectors and art institutions in East Africa. As one of the founding members, Danda Jaroljmek saw the need for creating a strong and sustainable art market for East African artists by supporting and promoting the most innovative artists in the region. With this in mind Circle Art Gallery opened its doors in 2015. It has been pivotal in creating a demand for East African art and here she tells us how this transpired in the short space of 3 years.
Q: What was the motivation to open the gallery in 2012?
A: In 2015, when we opened the gallery, we felt that there was no world-class ‘white cube' gallery space in Nairobi, which is a big vibrant city. We wanted to create a space where people could learn about East African art, see excellent well curated exhibitions and become engaged in the East African art scene and where artists could see their work well presented.
Q: Since 2013 Circle has put together the region's biggest annual art auction, which has been a huge contributing factor in putting East African artists on the global art map. Why do you believe this is so?
A: Absolutely, until we launched the auction there was virtually no secondary market in the region and many of the artists from the 60s - 90s were being forgotten. The auction has attracted Nairobi based collectors and the business community in Kenya that a gallery could not have done on its own and also brought in collectors of African art from across the continent and the diaspora. We now have clear proof of the interest and demand for East African artists and their investment potential and the Art Auction East Africa now runs independently.
Q: Is there a distinct thread that runs through the narrative of East African art and furthermore is there a point of difference with art from other regions of the continent?
A: No, I think artists nowadays live in a global world with access to information and technology and an artist in Kenya might find their work resonates with people anywhere in the world. The art scene in each country in the region is very different. Some countries have excellent art schools like Ethiopia and Khartoum and others like Kenya and Tanzania barely have art schools. Markets are stronger in Nairobi and Addis Ababa than in neighbouring countries so artists travel widely across the region to meet other artists and build a collector base.
Q: What has been your proudest moment since opening Circle Art Gallery?
A: It would have to be the opening night of the first exhibition in the gallery in 2015. Doing our first international art fair and realising we could hold our own alongside any other gallery was and still is a wonderful feeling. And of course watching the artists we work closely being invited to participate in biennales and museum shows around the world, that makes it all worthwhile.
For André Magnin, Founder of Parisian gallery MAGNIN-A, opening the gallery in 2009 in the heart of Paris, which is dedicated to art from Africa, was an aesthetic and political project. His love of art from the continent, and hence him dedicating his life’s work to promoting it, is because ‘there is great diversity in art from Africa. It is rich in freedoms and knowledge that have been liberated from occidental artistic codes,’ he says. Here he tells us why this matters and how MAGNIN-A was a culmination of an epic adventure through Africa, that he’s still on.
Q: Where did your interest or love of the work of contemporary African artists stem from?
A: I realized when travelling throughout Africa from 1986 to 1989, in order to prepare the first exhibition of contemporary art from the entire world in 1989 (the historical exhibition Magiciens de la terra, presented at the Center Georges Pompidou and at the Grande Halle de la Villette, of which he was Deputy Commissioner) that despite the lack of any official context, any places dedicated to art, without telephone or social media, I only had the streets, the oral exchanges, words of mouth and encounters to be able to access the artists. I had to fully immerse in the largest capital cities as well as the tiniest villages to explore the potential and exceptional creativity of the artists, in all their diversity. It was in this context that my passion was born
Q: Since this pivotal show at the Centre Pompidou, you and MAGNIN-A have been pivotal in exposing many African artists to the global art market. Tell us about this.
A: Thanks to the success of Magiciens de la terra, I met Jean Pigozzi who offered me the opportunity to build a unique collection dedicated to African artists, living and working on the continent – The Pigozzi Collection, the largest collection of contemporary African art in the world. As a result of the growth and enrichment of this collection, we have organized more than 40 exhibitions, solo show and group shows from 1991 to 2009 in museums and foundations worldwide, hence bringing visibility to numerous artists. At Art Basel in 2009, aside from South African galleries, Stevenson and Goodman, we wondered about the surprising absence of African artists at international art fairs. I then challenged myself to contribute to the creation of a genuine market for contemporary art from Africa on the international scene. This is when, together with my collaborator Philippe Boutté, we launched MAGNIN-A. Since then, from 2010, we have attended numerous art fairs around the world such as; Paris Photo, Art Genève, Art Paris Art Fair, Art Brussels,
Independent Art Fair, 1-54 London, New York and Marrakech then AKAA.
Q: How does contemporary African art contribute to the broader discourse of contemporary art?
A: The German Artists Anselm Kiefer, born with WWII, clearly stated that the
whole of his work originated from his roots and context. Artists do not disavow their culture or knowledge; they create from a context. They come from somewhere, as we all do, thereby enriching the territory of contemporary art, which contributes to a global history of contemporary art. As a curator my interest in art from Africa and hence cultures from the continent, contributes to advancement in global knowledge.