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State of Art: 3 London Gallerists Reflect on the Future of the Industry

Marylebone and Fitzrovia have long been incubators for nurturing new artistic programmes and spaces, but as the nature of the contemporary art market continues to change, Luxury London meets three local gallerists to find out what the future holds

Jessica Carlisle

Selected artists: Marcelle Hanselaar, Malene Hartmann Rasmussen, (winner of the Jerwood Makers Open 2015), Paul Feiler

After a career as an art lawyer lost its lustre, Jessica Carlisle found her new vocation in 2008, just as the credit crunch began to bite. She now works as a gallerist, curator, project manager and artist agent and launched Jessica Carlisle Gallery in 2015

I wasn’t really intending to start a gallery. I used to be an artist’s agent and had access to a huge database of artists who weren’t represented, so I began putting on exhibitions. I ended up starting a pop-up under my own name, until eventually my business partner persuaded me to find a permanent space. 

I moved into the art world just after the crash in 2008, so I wasn’t around for the crazy bubble. More recently the market for emerging artists has also become very overheated. I personally think it’s a good thing if that is beginning to right itself. 

I like the art I exhibit to have a strong visual hook. What I show in the gallery has an element of craftsmanship as I’m drawn to artists that really engage with materials. This month we’re holding a solo exhibition of Veronica Smirnoff’s work (8 February – 4 March). She mixes her own pigments with egg yolk, and paints on wooden panels blessed by monks. There’s such a story behind her paintings and the results are exquisite. 

Art fairs are where a lot of the action happens now. People might go to galleries to see the work, but they’ll buy it at a fair 

From a financial perspective the gallery space is becoming less relevant. Dealers at my level don’t have vast turnovers, so paying a London rent is quite difficult. As a result, gallerists are getting more creative with pop-up or temporary spaces, or collaborating with others. Art fairs are where a lot of the action happens now. People might go to galleries to see the work, but they’ll buy it at a fair – it’s a mindset thing. 

There’s a real appetite for art now, but I still think some people are scared of going into contemporary galleries. Maybe that’s why they like art fairs because they’re less intimidating in a way. For me, it’s all about relationships and engaging with buyers who really want to know about the artists and invest in them and their work. 

Malene Hartmann Rasmussen is one to watch. She works with ceramics and won the Jerwood Makers Open for her immersive installation featuring a swamp, sinister monsters and electronic birdsong. 

The best thing about my job is when the artists I represent get picked up by new collectors. Finding different buyers and putting works on their radar is just so rewarding. 

Jeremy Epstein

Selected artists: Noémie Goudal, Gordon Cheung, Marcin Dudek

A brief spell as a would-be teenage graffiti artist propelled Jeremy Epstein into an education programme at the Tate Modern. A placement at the Fondation Cartier in Paris followed, along with a Masters in Art History at The Courtauld Institute. He learned the ropes at blue-chip gallery Gagosian and ran a series of pop-ups before founding Edel Assanti in 2010 with co-director Charlie Fellowes

When I was 16 my first part-time job was working as an educator at Tate Modern. The gallery had started a programme called Raw Canvas to get people from more underprivileged backgrounds engaged with art by teaching basic visual analysis. Many of the lessons I learnt then still ring true in the sense that the programme at Edel Assanti is very issues-led. The work is relatable to what is going on around us today. 

The way in which people acquire information and share it has changed so much. When we started out the art scene was much more localised. Now the expectation on gallerists from both their artists and collector base, and from the museum system that they’re trying to interact with, is that they have a presence on the art fair stage. 

Art fairs have helped us to connect with a much broader network, but they’ve certainly changed the way that people think about the gallery’s role. There’s more competition today, too. You get the sense that you’re competing with galleries across the world, which you didn’t have to before because collectors were shopping locally as opposed to globally.

There’s more competition today, too. You get the sense that you’re competing with galleries across the world

Art is more accessible in a physical sense. The number of museums that have been built in the last ten years is astounding. Galleries are more important than they ever were, too. Fundamentally, art is about interrupting the everyday flow of things and the gallery space, much as people try and challenge it, is a place of reflection in which artists have an opportunity to show you their vision. Art fairs might be more important for the consumer side of things, but there’s no substitute for going to an artist’s solo show and being confronted with their narrative in that way.

The onus is really on galleries to make themselves retain relevance by proactively creating an audience for their artists. We’re organising an amazing events programme over the next six months, with artist talks and film screenings. We’re also hoping to throw an electronic music event to coincide with each exhibition, with a playlist programmed by the artists themselves. 

Darren Baker

Selected artists: Richard Gower, Eduardo Paolozzi, Mimi Maxwell

During his career as an artist, Darren Baker has painted many famous faces in his signature hyperrealist style, from the political to the sporting elite, but his most famous work is arguably his 2011 portrait of the Queen. He also serves as gallery director to the Darren Baker Gallery, opened in 2014 to showcase emerging artists alongside more established names

The art world has boomed enormously over the past few decades, especially when it comes to technology and online exposure for artists. Social media has opened up so many new opportunities, meaning that contemporary art is far more accessible. I feel that people are also a lot less intimidated when it comes to approaching galleries with the idea of starting a collection. 

Darren Baker Gallery was established as a platform for talented emerging artists, regardless of age, nationality or style. As a practicing artist, I recognised the need for more opportunities to exhibit and promote artwork in more transparent and fairer gallery environments. Fitzrovia is a special part of London. We feel very lucky to be here, especially as more and more galleries are beginning to recognise the excitement of the area that is somewhere between Mayfair and Shoreditch, both stylistically and geographically.

The growth of art fairs has been phenomenal, and this has done a lot to promote the arts on a larger scale. However, I don’t think they offer the same experience as an art gallery. The level of service you experience at fairs can’t match the personal attention to detail that you can find in a gallery. A gallery can offer a more intimate and relaxed atmosphere; a bespoke service that matches your needs without such intense time constraints. 

As a practicing artist, I recognised the need for more opportunities to exhibit and promote artwork in more transparent and fairer gallery environments

I’m grateful to be at a point in my career where I can give a lot back to charities, such as The Prince’s Trust who supported me as an artist in the early days. Last September, the gallery hosted an art auction to raise essential funds for its work helping young people to start their careers. I also support the Leanne Baker Trust, which I established in memory of my sister. Knowing that my art can contribute towards a greater cause is very rewarding. 

I’m always confident and optimistic about the future. It’s reassuring to see that in spite of trends in new art materials and techniques, traditional media and practices, such as drawing and painting, are consistently popular.

Jessica Carlisle Gallery, 4 Mandeville Place, W1U, www.jessicacarlisle.com; Edel Assanti, 74a Newman Street, WIT, www.edelassanti.com; Darren Baker Gallery, 81 Charlotte Street, W1T, www.darrenbakergallery.com