Creative Pursuits: Anna Szonyi, Director, AR.Gallery + Studio
MENA entrepreneurs share their insights on what it takes to build (and be a part of) the art gallery scene in the GCC.
What art gallery business model have you found most viable in the GCC region?
“Our business model is fundamentally different from other galleries not only in the GCC but further afield, and there are several reasons for that. Firstly, we are a design gallery, and not a fine art or art gallery. Secondly, we -who manage it- are not professional gallerists or curators, but designers and artists ourselves. Therefore, it is our playground where we exhibit our own pieces and create installations and collaborations with brands and other designers/artists. We also invite artists to exhibit who we think are in line with our philosophy.
Thirdly, we use the gallery space as our studio as well, where we work on the design of our artworks, our projects and public art commissions that are exhibited elsewhere. For us, this is the only viable business model, as this is what we know. We believe that with this unique approach we have managed to create a new kind of gallery type, which is more open and more accessible to the public and upcoming artists.
We have also managed to build a bridge between collectible art and commercial brands as well as to connect with other creative disciplines, such as architecture, jewelry design, graphics design, glass art, etc.”
From a commercial point of view, what is the biggest mistake you see emerging artists make when approaching you?
“We work with artists whose work is complementary to our specific creative vision, and who are open to work in a different kind of gallery set-up than the regular one. We continuously research artists, and when we find someone who we think has a potential, we reach out to them. We also receive loads of proposals via email from artists who’d like to exhibit. Unfortunately, most of the time, their applications are not professional.
We’ve received applications to exhibit with us; however, they’re sent out in one email to all the galleries in the GCC area “cc-ing” all of them. This approach will not be liked by any other gallery, regardless of the talent or the quality of the proposed work, due to it being very impersonal. The applications are also, most of the time, sent without a cover letter.
For us to evaluate whether we can work with the artist/designer, we need to have a clear, well-organized and personalized application submission, which we can evaluate, record in our database, and get back to them, once there is an exhibition or collaboration opportunity matching their skills or their artistic style.
We also have walk-in artists who pass by, have a chat with us, and then follow up with their portfolio via email. This is a better approach; however, we still prefer to receive requests for an appointment before approaching us, as we are also working on our own creative projects, and have other meetings. We suggest to the artists to make sure that the application and presentation is well worked out before sending it, as the first impression will decide whether she/he will have the opportunity to work with us.”
THE HOW-TO: ANNA SZONYI'S TIPS ON RUNNING A COMMERCIALLY SUCCESSFUL ART GALLERY
- It is important to have connections, and know most of the players in the art world before opening a gallery.
- Prepare for a huge amount of unexpected expenses, which will be added as extra contingency to the financial plan.
- Try to work with a mix of renowned and upcoming artists to have variety in the display, and provide opportunity for talented artists to exhibit along big names.
- Don’t rely on walk-in guests to buy anything. Focus on bringing clients to the gallery, and do extensive PR and marketing work.
- Don’t change your exhibit too often, neither too rarely. Find a balance.
- Don’t use too much collateral- save the planet.
Tamara Pupic is the Managing Editor of Entrepreneur Middle East.