Alternative art businesses choosing London despite Brexit uncertainty

Alternative art businesses choosing London despite Brexit uncertainty
Opinion

As the Brexit clock ticks with no clarity on what comes ahead, businesses in the UK have been forced to take precautions. And if business uncertainty wasn’t enough to discourage a new class of art businesses, the slow death of the high street in London continues, with ever-increasing rent prices, and store closures. 

This has resulted in a variety of responses from different galleries and art businesses. Some are moving their collections to other European cities to avoid losing their free circulation status, while others are rethinking the entire business model. David Zwirner recently opened a fifth location in Paris and while no explicit motive was given beyond the opportunity of expansion, many predicted that an uncertain London and a chaotic Hong Kong made his move all the more likely. “Brexit changes the game,” Zwirner said when he announced the news. “After October, my London gallery will be a British gallery, not a European one.”

Despite all this however, London maintains its strong footing as Europe’s cultural capital, boasting some of the best and most diverse art fairs like Frieze, 1:54, Sunday Art Fair as well as others, that collectively bring together hundreds of galleries and thousands of collectors from across the globe every year. This is likely the reason behind some new businesses’ decision to stay in London, but rethink the traditional business model. 

Cromwell Place is a brand new kind of arts organisation set to open in London’s South Kensington in May 2020. Applying the flexible workspace concept of co-working companies to the art market for the very first time, Cromwell Place will be open for galleries, dealers, advisors, collectors and art professionals to occupy its five impressive Grade II listed Victoria townhouses. Members will pay an annual membership fee and then only pay for the services they require ranging from private offices, to galleries for exhibitions, art handling and storage facilities. The project is the brainchild of John Martin, the owner of John Martin Gallery in Mayfair since 1992 and the co-founder and Director of Art Dubai until 2009. 

Cromwell Place, London’s new arts hub to open in spring 2020

The response so far has been enthusiastic, with leading UK and international galleries already signed up. Among the high profile galleries who have so far joined are Ingleby Gallery from Edinburgh (represents Sean Scully and David Batchelor), New York’s Alexander Gray Associates, Sao Paolo’s Nara Roesler (represents Artur Lescher) and Addis Fine Art. Moving to Cromwell could be more effective, particularly if you’re coming from Mayfair, where rent is exorbitant. Also, unlike a traditional gallery, members won’t need to staff or occupy a space when they’re away. The opportunity to network, collaborate, share foot traffic, and access a larger client base seems to be a good enough reason to join. 

Other art businesses are also emerging across the city, with new and creative ways to bypass the costly overheads associated with permanent spaces to showcase exhibitions. Lebanese-Finnish Art Dealer Taymour Grahne recently switched his gallery model from a traditional space in New York City’s Tribeca to a Nomadic Art Platform that hosts frequent exhibitions in London. Speaking to Harper’s Bazaar, Taymour said that he “decided to open a nomadic gallery because I don’t feel the need to have shows on view 12 months a year”. Taymour hosts solo exhibitions at different times throughout the year, most recently with only two exhibitions in 2018 and three so far in 2019 (Dominique Fung is currently on view at a pop-up location in Notting Hill). 

Another player that has recently emerged in the London art scene is ArtThou, an agency and exhibition space with no permanent location. Operating in a truly agile way, their curatorial programme takes place across various spaces, putting on temporary exhibitions to showcase international emerging artists. With their upcoming exhibition, Charcoal City, artists Arthur Laidlaw and Česlovas Lukenskas will be taking over a temporary space in Belgravia. Instead of solely relying on traditional footfall, ArtThou is partnering with networks, associations and brands like the Scottish Gin Awards and the Goldfinger Factory to reach more collectors and tap into wider audiences. 

To echo the words of Timothy Taylor, who represents artists like Alex Katz and Kiki Smith, “London will be just fine”. But with some players reconsidering how they operate and others emerging with innovative business models, hopefully it will be way more than just fine.