The Death Of The Gallerist - Part II

Following the first blog post in this series I have spent the last few days considering the imminent death of gallerist or at least the death of the physical gallery. It became clear that some recent research from the current new breed of art industry players and new future faces was required to support the contemporary online trends. If the traditional gallery is slowly becoming obsolete and the online gallery and auction house platforms are becoming more dominant, is the need for a gallery, rather like the need for the high street, dying out? Possibly galleries are morphing into the new cross platform omni-channel world supported by most luxury goods in the marketplace, a multilayered marketing experience merging the online world with the offline experience. Surely buying a work of art is different from buying a Gucci handbag or a Louis Poulsen designer lamp? Or possibly not?

I have chosen to explore two interesting players on the Instagram space who having been making significant waves on the online world of art over the past few years, the Unit London and PAINTGUIDE™.

Unit London, is currently London's leading artist-led gallery space. It was established in 2013 by millennial art dealers Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy whose Instagram bio claims they are Championing the world's most gifted artists and they currently boast 310,000 active followers. They have made a name for themselves and their gallery, Unit London, by harnessing the attention of today’s device-addicted art lovers.

Founders Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy

Founders Jonny Burt and Joe Kennedy

“It’s been a shock to some people, but we want to stimulate conversation whether with a mega-collector or someone who just wants to find out a bit about art,”

Jonny Burt

According to a recent Financial Times article, their accessible online approach encourages 2.5m unique impressions and up to 100 direct sale requests per week via Instagram alone. Their cutting-edge cool seemed to be underscored by their gallery space in London’s Soho but now the two are moving to the more traditional exclusive art area of Mayfair, London. This seems a strange and somewhat complex decision. The new gallery will be located relatively close to Sotheby’s with gallery neighbours including Hauser & Wirth and a hefty 10-year lease on the beautiful old building soon-to-be-gallery on Hanover Square. So in this age of social media, pop-ups and the online market place why should an Instagram success story such as Unit London invest in 56,0000 sq meters of prime and pricey location? As founder and art dealer Joe Kennedy explained,

“There is no way that social media will ever supersede a gallery. It’s the same as for music. You can stream for free but big artists still sell out at Wembley. You can’t beat the human experience, you just have to make it a good one,”

So possibly being skilled at social media and having a slick online art buying platform isn’t enough?

PAINTGUIDE™ , who currently have 345, 000 followers on Instagram was established in 2014 by artists Henrik Uldalen, a self taught painter born in South Korean, who is now based in London. As the Instagram account grew, Henrik decided to invited his peers to takeover the Instagram feed and curate a week’s worth of art inspiration for their online followers. This gave a very different entry point for the artists and a different experience for their viewers. As the founder Henrik Ulden explains,


PAINTGUIDE™ carries a visual dialogue on the art world’s continuing momentum into the digital sphere.
Social media’s impact on the art community has allowed creators to build a wider network of like minded contemporaries and extend their reach farther than ever before. Social media has transformed how artists connect with their audience and how viewers interact with artwork. 

Interestingly, this artist driven Instagram vehicle PAINTGUIDE™ also now runs concurrent offline international exhibition. Artists are invited to exhibit at various international gallery locations through collaborations with PAINTGUIDE™.

Trance, 2018 by Artist and Founder Henrik Uldalen

Trance, 2018 by Artist and Founder Henrik Uldalen

These are referenced as invitation to examine these ideas as well as the line between the digital exhibitions and in-person engagement with art.  

Henrik Uldalen

Sell-out collaborative exhibitions have taken place in London and NYC and one is soon to be held in May 2019 at a Swedish gallery…..Malmö watch this space!

So the omni-channel mentality seems to be present in both traditional galleries and auction houses, as discussed in part I of this blog post, as well as the new art market influencers. platform piggybacked off Charles Saatchi’s existing status as an international art influencer, collector and gallery owner. Now the same appears to be happening in reverse for the new art innovators of the past 5 years where their journey from online to a physical exhibition space, whether through collaboration or a permeant location, is still deemed to be of importance.

On the other end of scale, small to medium size galleries and art advisories also appear to be thriving in the new art buying landscape. Morgan-Davies Art is a small, stylish art consultancy based in London with over 20 years of experience in the art world. Founder Natalie Morgan-Davies runs and online gallery, collaborates in various ways with art fairs and offline events but has no permanent physical gallery space.

Social media and an online presence for Morgan-Davies Art is currently more about branding & company awareness as only a small amount of actual physical sales are driven exclusively through online channels.  Social media is valued a key tool for testing the market response to new artists and artwork and is useful for generating awareness and marketing art fairs and exhibitions but doesn’t support her primary business model as an art advisor.

So would a permanent physical gallery space support Morgan-Davies Art more?

It would certainly contradict the type of business I wanted to create.   I wanted a more affordable portal for clients therefore offering my clients more affordable art work, that excluded such gallery costs.  Having no physical space opens up a more direct relationship with the client where I am able to show art work within an interior/home setting rather than the same four gallery walls. Rather than a permanent space, I prefer pop up exhibitions.  This allows for far greater diversity and enables my artists to be exhibited in different, changing environments.  It also gives clients a fresh perspective and allows them to see how different spaces and interiors can enhance or change an art work.  It keeps things fresh.

Natalie Morgan-Davies

Though sales are becoming more frequent through the website it is typically only for a particular type of art.  Graphic works sell well online, as do photography and monochromatic works, which all reproduce well digitally.   Natalie Morgan-Davies explains,

Oil on canvas and colourful, textured pieces are more of an online challenge for all the obvious reasons.   However that said, repeat clients are starting to buy online, where they are familiar with the artist’s style already – so an online purchase is less of a gamble.  But many clients still like the face-to-face element.

To date Morgan-Davies Art’s most successful event experience on or offline was a recent collaboration with a stylish bar & restaurant located in London which reaped positive experience on many levels.  The unique, large and airy space, coupled with the central location, added to the success.  Large abstract canvases by artists Henrie Haldane could be exhibited together as an entire collection against a nice aesthetic.

Abstract artwork by Henrie Haldane at No.29 Power Station West, London

Abstract artwork by Henrie Haldane at No.29 Power Station West, London

This was a unique show – as finding a ‘gallery’ in the appropriate location that could accommodate so many large canvases would have been nearly impossible, especially with such an ‘interior’ setting.  This was such a beautiful and relaxed venue where people could meet for coffee, brunch etc. It led to many more interactions with buyers & interior designers.  I genuinely feel that the additional meetings & sales would not have happened in a more formal gallery space. 

Natalie Morgan-Davies

For a small, yet experienced player such as Morgan-Davies Art, the omni-channel flexibility works well. Offline they take advantage of freedom of movement supported by an online marketing strategy, building and retaining a client base whilst allowing new client interaction with art events in a non- traditional setting. They keep the costs down which ultimately means that they can compete more closely with the purely online platforms with minimal overheads and the artist hopefully sees a better return.

This December Nordic Art Agency artist Helen Brough is exhibiting a series of watercolours at the fabulous Paul Smith store located in Westbourne House in Notting Hill, London. Paul Smith is one of a number of fashion houses, including Victoria Beckham’s Dover Street store, to host art collaborations of established or emerging artists in 2018. There is clearly no shortage of inspiring locations where exhibitions of contemporary art can intermingle with fashion, dinning and interiors. Art and fashion have always gone hand in hand and now this is experienced in a more literal sense with physical gallery shows being curated in high end designer retail spaces.

7 days a week for 20 days, our Spring Pop Up gave our artists visibility to a new audience in a new location.

7 days a week for 20 days, our Spring Pop Up gave our artists visibility to a new audience in a new location.

We experienced our very own Nordic Art Agency Pop Up event in central Malmö earlier this year when we took over 200 sq. meters of prime gågatan (walking street) property on Södra Förstadsgatan for four weeks.

The exhibition was our first in Southern Sweden, representing eight new international artists. We hosted artist driven events throughout the month with five of the artists attending live painting and drawing events, discussions and wine tasting.

It snowed continuously, we met some brilliant Swedes and Danes and decided to stay!

Nordic Art Agency Spring Pop Up in Malmö, March 2018

Nordic Art Agency Spring Pop Up in Malmö, March 2018

The art pop up model works and social media is instrumental in promoting this type of short term event. People are often delighted to step into an new, exciting and sometimes unexpected art space. They view unknown artists, engage with unknown art advisors and from my personal experience have walked away with artwork of up to $7000 on the first encounter.

Social media may play some role in attracting buyers to the pop up initially but speaking from experience, smart phones and the internet play an even bigger role in giving buyers access to realtime information once inside the venue. Buyers can view that artists biography online, check out the price points, view their social media accounts and feel confident that they are making a partially researched - partially spontaneous purchase.

The art advisor is there to offer assurance and create the buying platform, often encouraging the client to read recent online press article or visit the artist’s own website whilst standing in front of the artwork. The omni-channel therefore takes on a role even in the physical world, a little like multiscreen viewing - updating your twitter feed whilst catching up on Netflix. The buyer researches the artist, and sometimes even the art dealers credentials, in real time whilst observing their possible purchase.

There is also more recent evidence that possibly an omni-channel art buying approach is more preferable, even if buying directly online from one of the many established and secure art buying platforms. Research has found that price transparency is a major hurdle for new art buyers buying directly online. The latest Hiscox Online Art Trade Report’s survey of 831 art buyers in April 2018 uncovered some interesting perspectives about buyers behaviour.

The report sighted that online art buying was worth $4.2 billion in 2017, up 12 per cent compared with the previous year, but the growth rate has halved in two years. According to 90% of the 280 new buyers among those surveyed, price transparency is critical to decision making, with 73% saying that access to comparable transactions and previous prices would improve confidence.

“It must seem like too high a mountain to climb to publish your best price first, as we see and expect in so many other areas of online shopping,”

Robert Read, Head of Art and Private Clients at Hiscox

So even when new art buyers are persuaded to buy online, online platforms are struggling to keep the buyers interested. 40% of 130 galleries surveyed say that repeat buying online simply doesn’t happen. “The end game is still open,” the report summarises and online customer retention is very low.

So if repeat buying requires more depth or client relationship, possibly the online art buying platform will not become the dominant market player as predicted and the gallery and gallerists still have a very vital role to play?

The new artist driven nature of the art world is revolutionary and is a major factor in the survival of the traditional role of the gallerist.,, PAINTGUIDE™ and numerous other platforms support the online world of the artist, disenfranchising the traditional art dealer or gallerist, increasing visibility of their work, reducing overheads and receiving more money and more control of their artistry.

The view point of the artist is almost as important as the art buyer. We held a poll this week on our Instagram story and 140 views were recorded and 30% of artists claimed they had had a positive experience with online art platforms. 70% polled that they had had a negative experience. It was a basic 24 hour poll, note: we can only claim a small Instagram following of 1200 people, but there was interaction and the results were clear. A twitter poll was ran at the same time and those results recorded 100% of artists voting for traditional galleries when offered the choice of online gallery representation or selling their work independently.

We also approach some artists who are using online galleries and physical galleries and here were some of their insights:

Shimmering Summer Sea by Chelsea Davine sold through in 2018

Shimmering Summer Sea by Chelsea Davine sold through in 2018

Chelsea Davine is a British artist based in Barcelona who exhibits with galleries in Spain, the UK and the Nordic Art Agency and her artwork has been available on several online platforms over the past three years. Chelsea regularly sells work successfully online but has been left hanging by the online platforms, waiting for payment and it can be a slightly frustrating partnership at times. In the main she is pro traditional offline gallery relationship and explains,

Being able to share your work on online platforms with the world is an extraordinary advance for artists as it means potential clients from all over the globe can view your art. However, there is no substitute to having a close working relationship with an expert in their field who can assess a clients needs and visualise the artwork in situ and be able to liase between the creative and the client. I’ve found in my experience this creates a fulfilling experience that then becomes a friendship.

Chelsea Davine

This next view point was written by artist Mark Thompson, who offered very some constructive commentary on our blog post last week,

The online art world has proved to be a wonderful way to connect my work to new viewers, but as you noted, with sites such as becoming so overstocked and overwhelming, it becomes less of a marketplace and more of a lottery. We do all still aim for gallery shows. The feeling of solidity and a chance to get a physical overview of recent work, cannot really happen when everything is reduced to a jpeg.

That said, how do Galleries maintain any kind of presence when the drift of consumerism both drives up rents and creates armchair collectors?

Mark Thompson

We also approached Jo Hummell who is a fabulous established artist working with several physical galleries internationally as well as, and Jo has had some positive experience with online gallery platforms especially in the early years in her career,

My first experience of being represented was with New Blood Art, a pioneering online gallery curated by Sarah Ryan. Sarah set out to champion new graduates and put they’re work in front of collectors. It transformed my career and gave me the exposure I needed to create a sustainable practice.

Jo Hummell

Under The Pier by Jo Hummel - Sold by in 2017

Under The Pier by Jo Hummel - Sold by in 2017

My collection of auction house catalogues from the early 90s

My collection of auction house catalogues from the early 90s

As an art historian and art advisor I am all about the patronage. I belief that a talented artist should be supported and funded by a benefactor, a pioneer, a patron of their skill, spreading the word and creating opportunity to expose the sheer talent and joy of their artistry. If the championing of an artist today is shown by raising their visibility through social media, by creating video content, publishing online press releases or setting up a Pinterest board in honour of their recent work, these channels are vital tools. The online platforms are new exciting global extensions of the beautiful, glossy and weighty catalogues of yesteryears posted out by galleries and auction houses, spreading images of art and sculpture to the select few buyers and not the masses.

The flood gates are now open and artists are finally free to post and pitch their artworks online. It is liberating, brilliant and ultimately life changing. Works hidden in the studio can suddenly reach a new audience and the personality and integrity of the artist can be explored beyond the shadows of a gallery.

Social media and online art platforms are almost the provincial market stalls of the gallery town square. A bustling and vibrant place where there is an abundance of quantity, but possibly not always quality. It can be hard to navigate above the noise. You can become overwhelmed by the sheer volume of images online and artists presented by online e-commerce platforms. Often there is a chat box windows offering you the chance to start a dialogue about the artwork with an online advisor or bot, on some sites you can offer a bid for an artwork, there is a 14 day cooling off period, no obligation free return & free shipping. The virtual market stall holders stand and pitch their sales banter and those who have the biggest online marketing budget can even chase you around the internet, popping up in places where you least expected with their tempting images and art offers. It can be a little tricky for the untrained eye or inexperienced buyer. Is the offering authentic and are they getting a good deal? Or do they really want to take the steady hand of an expert, see the artwork in person and breath in the composition offline?

Interesting the rise of the Affordable Art Fair , which was launched in London’s Battersea Park in October 1999, is proof that art collectors are still seeking affordable and accessible ways to experience art buying offline. The fairs are filled with 1000s of original contemporary paintings, sculptures, photographs and prints, all below $7000, in a relaxed and friendly environment. The Affordable Art Fair now welcomes over 210,000 art enthusiasts each year to fairs held in 10 cities around the world including London, New York, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Singapore, Milan and Stockholm. Collectors can take their pick from a mix of local, national and international galleries showcasing a wide array of affordable artworks by established artists and rising stars. The website also has an web shop where those who exhibit can also sell there artworks. This encourages fair goers to go online after the fair and potentially make a purchase once they have given the sale some more consideration. This is naturally backed up by their Instagram feed and customised newsletters email campaigns. Once again the omni-channel world of temporary exhibitions, website and social media are at work drawing in both artists, who may not be considered highbrow enough or established for a traditional art show, and the art buyers who might find a gallery setting intimidating. The online marketing images are slick, refreshing and really make you want to walk away with one of those pink polygons under your arm!

The Other Art Fair is another new art exhibition, driven by which has become the leading artist fair for art lovers to meet and buy direct from the very best emerging and undiscovered artists.

With fairs across the globe in the UK and Australia, each edition of The Other Art Fair showcases work by a selection of talented artists handpicked by a committee of art industry experts.

Celebrated for its unique visitor experience, The Other Art Fair inspires and delights with a tightly curated and distinctive programme of immersive fair features that create a platform for the ‘unexpected’ at each fair.

The Other Art Fair

Buy Direct From The Artist, strong and positive offline message from an online platform.

Buy Direct From The Artist, strong and positive offline message from an online platform.

The artist exhibitors are all member of the platform and The Other Art Fair provides an offline show case where artists are invited to exhibit their work and meet the online consumers in the flesh. The offline exhibition and artists are supported by the online e-commerce platform which flows smoothly into the the Saatchi complementary art advisory service. The on and offline experience for the artists and the art buyer become a multi layers dialog which offers the buyer highly visible access to the artist directly.

The need to create art and communicate through images will always be integral to human beings. The need to surround oneself with the meaningful images which stir emotion, document an event or simply resonate on an sensory level will always be sought out. I think the omni-channel experience allows art buyers and artists the ability to explore and be present in a new an explosive visual world but with the opportunity to discover, develop and go deeper if they so wish.

The traditional gallery has to work harder to stay relevant. They gallerist has to up their media game to compete with the new landscape of virtual galleries, the social media influencers and art buyers. It is an exciting time to be part of the art world as an art agent, gallerist and art lover. I will always strive to create meaningful relationships with artists as it is challenging, interesting and pleasurable. Communicating the story of an artwork or the character or nuances of its creator can not be done remotely, the conversation and human connections are intensely emotional. If you have ever fallen in love with a painting at first sight you will understand the sensation, I don’t believe this can be recreated solely online. In pursuit of success and F.O.M.O. we will all begin or continue to play the social media game but ultimately I believe for the buyers, artists and art advisors the physical presence of a work of art is dulled by pixelation. No high-resolution image can recreate the connections made by viewing artwork offline and nothing can ultimately compete with an actual shared conversation.

The omni-channel integrated art buying experience will no doubt continue to be refined and modified over the next decade. The offline gallery experience has been altered forever and will be redefined but I very much doubt will ever truly die out. This gallerist is still very much alive and redrawing her map to navigate the new art buying landscape, one Instagram post at a time.

Please leave you thoughts, comments and experiences to continue this highly topical debate!

Juliet Rees-Nilsson

Founder & Art Advisor