TRADITIONAL art dealers steadfastly sticking to their niche audience have had a rough run lately.
The global financial crisis stifled art buyers worldwide, and in Australia they got a double-whammy; the federal government introduced laws telling art owners to either stick collections in storage or sell them off, otherwise they couldn’t put them in self-managed super funds.
There are estimates that across Australia around 30 per cent of commercial galleries closed.
But Studio 281 Art Gallery on Guildford Road has stuck in there for the long haul and is expanding after attracting a new, younger audience.
Leo Flavel started Studio 281 about 10 years ago while in his mid-20s.
He says back then he was moving paintings mostly between $4000 – $5000, but while a lot of galleries simply banked on the economy improving and old investors coming back, his average price is around half that and he’s thriving on the increased turn-over.
“Other people have been sitting on their hands waiting for the economy to get better,” he says.
By focussing on emerging artists Mr Flavel’s been tapping into a younger art-buying demographic, who are roughly in their mid-20s, and aren’t encumbered by mortgages or kids yet.
”We’ve been all over the street art scene,” he says, a movement that’s been booming over the past few years and is making the transition to in-home pieces.
“We’ve just finished a massive show that was a huge success called Making Waves. There were 20 emerging artists that we’ve never worked with before. It went really well, it showed we’re doing the right things.”
Word’s spreading. Artist Kathryn Gallagher’s solo exhibition We Can Be Heroes bleeds the pop art aesthetic popular with a younger crowd.
Her bright images and familiar pop culture comic characters are viewed with childlike wonderment.
She has works in international collections and won the 2013 Amnesty International award for her piece “Mabo,”.
Mr Flavel’s studio caught her eye for her WA premiere.
“For an artist to find us all the way from over east and seek us out, that’s a proud little moment for me,” Mr Flavel told the Voice.
“She said I’ve been watching you guys for over six months, I want to do a show in WA, and I want to do it with you. I was blown away.”
While some galleries are downsizing or even shutting, Flavel says they need more space. They’re currently extending to make a permanent space for emerging artists to have their works on show on short-term leases with no commission.
“The Perth art scene is going through a massive revolution,” he says. “You’ve got great artists going underground, doing little pop up shops themselves.”
The problem is they’re often ill-suited to the purpose, with bad lighting, bad display spaces, and they disappear as fast as they pop up meaning punters coming back to secure the deal are confronted with an empty space.
“It’s hard to build momentum and get buyers in. That’s why we built this thing: We want to have a permanent space that on any day of the year you can look at this space and there will be artwork in there… it’ll be raw and underground but readily available to anybody. All these artists and underground shows, they’re doing really well, but they need a better spot.”
Kathryn Gallagher’s solo exhibition runs July 14 to August 6 at 281 Guildford Road.
by DAVID BELL