A chat with Cob Gallery’s Curator and Director Victoria Williams
Cob Gallery was founded in 2011 by playwright Polly Stenham and Victoria Williams. The two had met at University College London, where Victoria was studying Art History and Polly English, before she left to concentrate on her writing. Polly wrote plays including That Face and Tusk Tusk as well as the screenplay for Nicolas Winding Refn’s film The Neon Demon. Victoria went on to work with art critic Waldemar Januszczak, helping to research his television documentaries, before she and Polly decided to open Cob Gallery together.
Cob Studios and Gallery is in the heart of Camden and positions itself as a showcase for new artistic talent – somewhere you can discover the next generation of artists just before they become influential. Artists like Faye Wei Wei, Joe Sweeney and Nina Mae Fowler, as well as Kate Moross. Victoria directs Cob with creative director Cassie Beadle.
The gallery’s unusual name comes from Polly’s late father, Anthony ‘Cob’ Stenham, a banker who was also chairman of the Royal College of Art and an avid art collector. The gallery was set up in his name.
In the year Cob celebrates its 10th anniversary, we caught up with Victoria to find out about the gallery’s achievements so far and its plans for the future.
Did you always believe you’d end up working in the art world in some capacity?
I can’t say that was always my dream. I wanted to be a vet but couldn’t quite stand the sight of blood so turned to a law degree instead. However, I have always been drawn to creative people and consider myself to be one. I made a switch in direction to studying Art History at UCL, which began a chain reaction and led me to working with Waldemar Januszczak on his BBC documentaries. I immediately knew I wanted to work with artists.
Did you spend a lot of time visiting galleries when you were growing up?
I feel really fortunate that my family have always instilled a love of culture, and I have engaged with the arts since childhood. I hope to do the same for my son, too.
Do you have any favourite galleries?
I admire so many of my peers and I think that there is such an exciting and diverse emerging gallery scene. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that I am really drawn to galleries with female identifying founders or directors. It goes without saying that Sadie Coles is completely inimitable and a gallery I truly admire from the ground up. Again, Vanessa Carlos and Carlos Ishikawa. Further afield, I love what New York’s Sargent’s Daughters are doing – I find their style and voice so inspiring. I also have huge admiration for Projet Pangée and Mrs. And obviously, I could not not include Stuart Shave’s Modern Art – what he does looks so effortless.
Are you a practising artist yourself?
My A Level art teacher said I had the conceptual but not the artistic talent. Make of that what you will!
How would you describe your role at Cob?
To be honest, I don’t know many directors of galleries that have a singular role within the structure of a commercial gallery. We have a very small team, so there is always a little bit of everything all the time. It keeps you on your toes. I was speaking with Scott Ogden – director of SHRINE – a few weeks ago, who summed it up so well: “It’s never-ending, but it’s fun!”
What effect has a year of Covid and lockdowns had on the gallery?
It has made a huge impact, mostly because we are a small team, but does not exclude some positive effects. We felt grateful that we were able to be so nimble with our programme and respond so quickly to the situation. A larger space does not allow that necessarily. Mostly, it allowed some time away from the constantly changing exhibition space to restore and renew. Our overhaul of the gallery space means we have returned with a fresh look in time for our 10-year anniversary. Simultaneously, it has inspired digital possibilities, allowing us to open up a whole new programme stream alongside our physical gallery space. I am excited to continue to develop this, although it’s certainly more work as it means we can work with double the artists per year!
How are you celebrating the tenth year of Cob?
We were excited to celebrate this landmark year by restoring functioning artist studios in the space and occupying them with residencies. Giving back our space to emerging artists in this way was to reflect the core values that we established the gallery with. The initial slots we have given to Home by Ronan Mckenzie and PLOP, founded by Oli Epp and Aindrea Emelife, next year we will launch our own Cob residency. Furthermore, and from the late spring, we are launching a rolling exhibition that over the final months of 2021 will feature one artist that has exhibited with us over the 10 years every two weeks. As for many their presentation at Cob was their debut or early career, we wish to clearly recognise their achievements since exhibiting at Cob. We felt this was a way to bring such a diverse range of artists together in one cohesive exhibition
What have been some of the highlights of those ten years?
There are too many to list! We have had a lot of adventures. Exhibiting one of my favourite female artists, Katie Paterson’s Moon Light Bulb, in the inaugural exhibition which went on to be included in the Guggenheim. It’s always a proud moment.
Do you have any favourite up-and-coming artists we should look out for?
What plans do you have for the future of the gallery?
I hope we can continue to grow – we wish to work with more international artists and develop our profile internationally. We also hope to expand the residency opportunity to international artists.
Muster I, 2020
Coloured pencil, graphite, crayon on linseed, turps and cooking oil primed paper
90 x 64 cm