Selling leggings at artmonte-carlo: MOHAMED ALMUSIBLI
The project space Cherish was founded in 2019 by Mohamed Almusibli, James Bantone, Ser Serpas, and Thomas Liu Le Lann to disrupt common narratives in the art world. Aiming to exhibit work that has been tokenized, this alternative space of production and exhibition makingalso reimagines the organizational structures since the project space was also their home. In this interview, Claire Koron Elat speaks with Mohamed Almusibli about selling leggings at the art fair in Monte Carlo and living and working together.
CLAIRE KORON ELAT: You founded Cherish with three of your friends, James Bantone, Ser Serpas, and Thomas Liu Le Lann.
MOHAMED ALMUSIBLI: Yes. We opened Cherish in December 2019 and Marguerite Mikanowski joined us in 2022. At that time, James was moving to Geneva, and Ser and I were moving there as well. We knew Thomas who was already here. We just felt the need to do something together about our upbringing with our network and realize a program in this city. We aimed to introduce innovative concepts, inspired by what we had previously observed in Zurich and abroad. At first, we wanted to move in together. Then we found online an apartment that could provide both—a living space and a space for exhibitions.
We also always had two guest rooms at Cherish, so we could offer accommodation tothe artists we invited.
CKE: Do you feel like there is something special about the constellation of the four of you? You all have artistic practices but you’re the one who is more curatorial involved outside of the project space.
MA: I started working as a curator before working as an artist. For many years, I've been doing both at the same time, but curating has always been the principal activity. In terms of the curatorial vision we had for the space, we were all discussing ideas. It wasn't just one person doing the program. Our guidelines are that we always think of people whose work we really like, and who we would like to support; give them a platform, but also work with people who we would like to spend time with. So, it’s more about thinking of who we would like to invite to our home for a week or more. Sometimes that made the decision of whether you'd like to work with that artist much easier.
The apartment became a place around which a community grew. The relationships that we formed with the artists we worked with usually goes beyond just one show. Some of the artists even ended up moving in.
CKE: I think this kind of curatorial practice, living together with the exhibition you curated, is somewhat related to the whole idea of living together with art, which is something that you perhaps rather relate to collectors. Although I think that having art in your apartment that you purchased rather than art you curated and are in conversation with feels somewhat more anonymous.
MA: You have to coexist together with the exhibition. We also had to find compromises with the artists. For example, there is a couch and dining table in the exhibitions space, and we had to ask the artists to keep at least one of them, so the place remains a bit more livable. For example, when Shuang Li had her show, her art filled half of the living room, which she turned into a ball pit. Therefore, the couch was unusable. But we still had the dining table where we could gather, have our dinners, and spend time together. So, while curating the show, we always had to make sure that we’re still able to live in the space.
CKE: Do you think that project spaces in general have a specific function within the art system? For example, because they might show more experimental positions.
MA: What is great with project spaces is that you can distance yourself a bit from the work because you don’t have commercial or institutional pressure. It allows artists to really go to the maximum of their vision and go crazy trying new things. We mainly work with emerging artists, but we also do exhibitions with artists who already have a market or an institutional presence. For them, it’s great to do a show without that kind of pressure.
For example, Cajsa von Zeipel did a show here in which she turned the whole living room into an artist studio with many cats. Then there was a performance of people pretending to be the cats during the opening. I think it enables a certain freedom that you can’t find in commercial or institutional spaces.
And historically, artist-run spaces and project spaces have always been important in the art system. As an artist, you maybe start showing at a project space and because galleries check the program of that project space, they also get introduced to this artist’s work.
CKE: There are examples of project spaces that have transitioned into commercial galleries. Is this something that you were ever interested in?
MA: We were thinking a lot about what to do after Cherish. There was the option of turning it into a commercial gallery or creating a board and making it into a bigger institution. But for us, it was important to put an end toCherish and finish this chapter. Since the program of the space is so much connected to the actual physical space, we didn’t think that it would be possible to export the project. This was the last summer ofCherish. I think it's important to give space for new initiatives and project spaces to open in Geneva.
CKE: In terms of commerciality, you did, however, participate in artgenève and art Monte-Carlo. They’re art fairs that are the epitome of the art system’s commercial side.
MA: artgenève always has free booths for project spaces and institutions, which is not part of the fair’s central part. We collaborated with Alienze, a project space run by Noémie Degen and Simon Jaton, and showed Nina Emge who is a Swiss-Brazilian artist based in Zurich. She covered all walls of the booth with the gray carpet material that was also covering the floor. Later, she did something similar for her first institutional show at the Halle für Kunst Lüneburg. So, it was great to experiment with the format in the booth.
For art Monte-Carlo, we played with the idea of an art catalogue. We invited the artist duo Vaginal Mystery Tour based in Berlin. They had previously made a set of leggings and suggested to us that they should be sold as artworks. Then we asked a couple of artists and friends to write a short commentary on the leggings, sort of as a selling pitch.
CKE: Did people buy the leggings?
MA: Unfortunately, not.
CKE: How did the fair audience respond to your booth? I image it’s a very different audience than the one who usually visits your space.
MA: A lot of visitors were just curious about the work, as it engulfed the entire booth. But I also think that the placement of the booth within the fair was not necessarily inviting real collectors but more people who were interested in the art. We didn't make any big sale, but it was a great opportunity for simply introducing Nina's work as well as our work as a project space. We also poured some drinks and announced on our social media that we were hosting an opening in our booth. We created a little moment for us inside the fair.
CKE: Do you have an explanation as to why collectors weren't really responding so much to the work?
MA: I think in Geneva, collectors and the art market in general usually don't buy immediately, they like to know you a bit more. We met many people that returned toCherish to get to know the program. And sometimes they did end up buying one little work from a show.
For example, we also participated in Paris Internationale with PZ Opassuksatit and Jasmine Gregory and in Basel Social Club last summer with Azize Ferizi where we had a totally different response from visitors and collectors. It was more direct and faster.