1883 Magazine

The opening of a new art gallery in London is an event worth celebrating, and particularly so when skyrocketing rents, a slowing economy and a pervasive sense of uncertainty put many spaces at risk of closure.

The new addition to the capital’s gallery scene will open its doors to the public in Soho on 20th May with a debut show delving into the wonders of contemporary geometric abstraction (STATIC/KINETIC, private view on 19th May). 1883 sat down for a chat with Alice Black, co-founder (with Matt Symonds) of the eponymous gallery ALICE BLACK, to discuss the setting up, philosophy and aims of the soon to open art space.

Hello Alice, can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

My name is Alice Black, I am a 26-year-old London based art dealer and soon to be gallerist. On 19th May 2017 (6-9pm), along with my co-founder Matt Symonds, I will be launching a brand-new brick-and-mortar gallery space at 47 Berwick St (1st fl.), in the heart of Soho, London.

When did you realize that art was something that you wanted to devote your career to? And how did the idea of opening your own gallery space come about?

I have always had a strong visual awareness. From the age of about six, or even earlier, I began to develop an unusual obsession with how people had decorated their homes – colour schemes, the art on their walls, or lack of it etc. I had strong opinions on this. Our own home was filled to the brim with art, natural objects my parents had picked up on their travels and textiles acquired by my dad who was a rug dealer. I used to obsessively ‘curate’ it to the point that the rest of the family would get really fed up.

When I was growing up I watched my two older brothers, one a gifted painter, the other an accomplished sculptor, struggling to make a living from their work – this made me realise that despite obvious raw talent, many artists were not good at self-promotion. My interest in contemporary art really came into focus when I studied history of art at Sussex Uni. Then, on leaving, I read ‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton, and this really made up my mind that I wanted my career to be in art. I did a number of internships, had a brief stint at Phillips Auction House, and was then offered a job in the sales team at Stephen Friedman Gallery. This was a hugely valuable experience – I learnt a huge amount and worked with one of the best and nicest gallery teams in London. However after a year or so I was convinced I wanted to go it alone and have my own business, and so I left SFG at the end of June 2016 in order to strike out as an independent – at that point not knowing exactly how I was going to do this.

During this time I was out constantly visiting artists at their studios, attending degree shows and going to as many gallery exhibitions as I could. I was discovering many extraordinary artistic talents who weren’t necessarily getting the platform I thought they deserved. Working on a shoe-string I started off hauling artworks around London in an enormous canvas bag to collectors’ houses. This worked well as a way of selling art but was too limiting. I then began eyeing up pop-up exhibition venues, including the basement and cells of the old Chelsea Police Station in which I was then living. The scope and ambition of the project began to change and expand when I joined forces with London based investor and collector Matt Symonds, a former senior partner at the consulting firm Bain & Company. We realised that if we went the pop-up route it might save on premises expenses, but we would spend well over half our time just searching for the next venue. So together we investigated several potential longer term exhibition venues and eventually alighted on our new Soho space which we are very excited about launching.

Given the present economic uncertainties, what would you say was the most challenging aspect of setting up an art gallery in London?

Enormous overheads without a doubt. Rent and business rates are a huge obstacle. It’s threatening the gallery landscape as we know it. A host of galleries have been forced to shut up shop altogether, or are transforming their business models and taking it online. Myself and Matt have been very lucky to have come in on the end of a ten-year lease, which will give us a three year lease to January 2020, and allow us the time to get established in a relatively (but only relatively…) low cost space.

And what was the most rewarding?

Getting the keys to our Soho gallery was a very exciting moment. However, the biggest reward comes in discovering the artists quietly breaking new ground in the shed of their parents’ homes or an airless basement of an ex Super-Drug store, and knowing that we now have the possibility of giving them the platform they deserve.

How would you describe your gallery’s ethos? And what do you look for in an artist?

Our aim is to create an exhibition programme which stimulates and communicates aesthetically as much as it does intellectually. Regardless of an artist’s status, i.e. emerging or established, what we look for is the powerful combination of strong creative vision, notable technical ability and above all artistic authenticity.

Despite your young age, you have been working in the art world for quite some time; I wondered, what do you make of the current state of the art market?

The art market is more and more investment driven, this means many people are blinded by big brand names instead of being guided by their passions. Galleries like ours, which seek to give a platform to emerging talent as well as already established artists, therefore face the challenge of convincing a nervous collector base, that new works by new artists, not yet validated by industry insiders, are worthy of their attention.

An increasingly dominant market player is the online art market which grew by 15% in 2016. The internet has had an amazing, democratising effect on the art world, but I believe there is nothing like seeing work in the flesh, and I certainly know collectors who have been quite disappointed by work they have seen and bought online when it actually arrives at their homes. Finally, a huge proportion of art is now sold at art fairs. I personally can find the sheer volume and scale of these events quite overwhelming – you will have one type of art on one stand, butted up with something completely incompatible on the next. For me, there is nowhere like the gallery as a place to engage with an artists practice on a deeper more meaningful level; but it’s clear that fairs are playing a very important part in the development of the market, and that is largely to be welcomed.

The gallery’s first group exhibition, STATIC/KINETIC, opens on May 20th; can you give us an insight into what we can expect from the show?

The debut show, STATIC/KINETIC, examines the lively connection between seven of the most exciting contemporary artists working in the field of geometric abstraction today: Daniel Chadwick; Richard Caldicott; Ben Gooding; Andre Stitt; Kate Terry; Ivan Black; and Maryrose Watson. The common element to all the works in the first show is the use of movement and dynamism as a means to create new visual experiences and more interactive relationships with the viewer.

And as a last question, what tips would you give to a would-be gallerist?

Well it’s a little early for me to give tips! But if I think about the last year or so I would say have conviction in what you do, you will need a lot of passion to carry you through. Give as much time to your financial planning as you do to your creative planning. Continually expand your network – without your artists and clients you have nothing. Listen to your instincts. Remember it’s not meant to be easy. And finally, integrity is key.

STATIC/KINETIC will be running from 20th May to 29th June at ALICE BLACK, 47 Berwick Street (1st floor), London W1F 8SQ



Words by Jacopo Nuvolari @jacopo982

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