European galleries: April 2020

Galleries respond to the pandemic with online showrooms, collaboration and creativity.

By Anna Sansom / 3rd April 2020
Audrey Large, 'Implicit Surfaces', 2019 COURTESY: Studio Vedèt – curator of Audrey Large's Nilufar show

Audrey Large, ‘Implicit Surfaces’, 2019
COURTESY: Studio Vedèt – curator of Audrey Large’s Nilufar show

AS THE IMPACT of the health crisis and quarantine is being acutely felt across the design sector, galleries are reflecting on how to adjust, invent new ways of working and reach their audiences via online platforms. “It’s very destabilising to be living in this present situation,” Nina Yashar, founder of Nilufar in Milan, says. “The cancelling of the Salone del Mobile has changed the entire year, not just for its participants but the vast international network that is fundamental for our sector’s economic and productive growth.”

Nilufar had planned to present exhibitions on Studio Nucleo, Bethan Laura Wood and Massimiliano Locatelli, Flavie Audi, Federica Perazzoli and Audrey Large in its Milanese spaces in April. Now, the team is developing a new website with richer content and showing a “virtual tour” of Nilufar Squat Los Angeles, a project inaugurated in December and lasting until May that is displaying diverse pieces in a 500m2 space. “We’ve re-established deadlines for the production of contemporary projects but haven’t cancelled anything,” Yashar reassures. “We’re respecting the agreements with our designers. We’ve found great understanding and collaboration from everyone.”

Installation view group show at Nilufar Squat Los Angeles COURTESY: Nilufar, Milan

Installation view group show at Nilufar Squat Los Angeles
COURTESY: Nilufar, Milan

Gallery FUMI in London is also exploring virtual showrooms and is concerned about the welfare of its artists. “Many of our artists have young families and assistants working with them in their studios,” Valerio Capo, Gallery FUMI’s director says. “We’re here to support them and have to stay positive and work together to navigate this very dark and challenging moment.” Capo hopes that creativity may bring some comfort to people: “Soon collectors will feel more secure in the comfort of their homes surrounded by their loved ones and will be more open to looking at art and design again.”

Johannes Nagel, 'Potential Vessel No. 5', 2018 COURTESY: Gallery FUMI, London

Johannes Nagel, ‘Potential Vessel No. 5’, 2018
COURTESY: Gallery FUMI, London

For Armel Soyer in Paris, contemplating the design market is not the priority right now. “Our market responds to needs at the top of the Maslow pyramid,” she says, referring to the American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s five-tiered pyramid that places “self-actualisation” and creative activities at the top versus safety and physiological needs at the bottom. “I don’t see myself calling my clients to take their pulse out of respect for their preoccupations about their health.” Instead, the gallery endeavours to bring a touch of lightness via its website. “We have a duty to entertain our aficionados and followers, change their ideas and show them beautiful things. We’ll think about business later.”

Olga Engel, 'Who are You?' chairs, 2020 (covered in Kvadrat's Ria fabric) COURTESY: Galerie Armel Soyer, Paris

Olga Engel, ‘Who are You?’ chairs, 2020 (covered in Kvadrat’s Ria fabric)
COURTESY: Galerie Armel Soyer, Paris

Yet for Paula Karelic and Xavier Franquesa, founders of Il·lacions in Barcelona, the Spanish lockdown “comes at the worst time”. Il·lacions was due to open a 250m2 apartment with six exhibition rooms in central Barcelona in March. But realising this ambition has been put on hold. “We’d been working for a little more than a year to open this physical space for the local community of designers that have no place in this country to exhibit,” Karelic and Franquesa bewail. “Unfortunately, the glory of Barcelona’s design scene is a thing of the past and a lot of work has to be done to reactivate the local ecosystem where, paradoxically, there’s so much talent. We’re planning how to deal with this crisis and join forces with institutions and foundations.”

Meanwhile, Side Gallery from Barcelona is astonished by how quickly the COVID-19 pandemic has spread since its participation in Collectible in Brussels in early March. On its stand were Rodrigo Pinto’s Tierras Hipnopómpicas'(Hypnopompic lands), 2020 – low concrete tables with ceramic shapes. “Three weeks ago, there didn’t seem to be much fear,” Luis Sendino, Side Gallery’s director, says. He hopes there might be a positive outcome from international fairs being cancelled or postponed, leading to a less frenetic pace and less travel: “Maybe people will once again become more interested in going to galleries, seeing a beautiful exhibition and taking the time to talk to the gallerist, without any rush, and enjoying the act of buying as something special.”

Rodrigo Pinto, ‘Tierras Hipnópómpicas’ coffee table, 2020
COURTESY: Side Gallery, Barcelona

Lise Coirier, director of Spazio Nobile in Brussels, echoes this sentiment. She would like design’s tactile dimension to be re-emphasised after the pandemic. “Digital platforms can disconnect collectors from the emotional and physical connection to artworks,” Coirier opines. “There’ll always be a need to approach art and design in a sensorial manner. The most important quality is tactility.” The Belgian lockdown was announced while Spazio Nobile was hosting a dinner honouring its Bela Silva exhibition. The gallery was lucky enough to clinch some deals before collectors started to tighten their belts during the economic crash. “Some of our collectors decided to acquire works they love and need at this point of uncertainty,” Coirier says.

Bela Silva, 'El Beso (The Kiss)', 2020 COURTESY: Spazio Nobile, Brussels / PHOTOGRAPH: Margaux Nieto

Bela Silva, ‘El Beso (The Kiss)’, 2020
COURTESY: Spazio Nobile, Brussels / PHOTOGRAPH: Margaux Nieto

Could awareness of how this calamitous situation is affecting creatives influence collectors to think about works differently? London gallerist Sarah Myerscough certainly believes so. “Hopefully, this crisis will have a profound effect on how collectors engage with the design pieces they buy,” she says. “Perhaps the new emphasis will be on supporting artists and their practices, understanding ethical choices behind the making of works and how these relate to participation in a greater community.” Right now, her attention lies on implementing a finance plan to help artists, designers and makers. “We’re finding out all possible ways to help artists from [Britain’s] Crafts and Arts Councils and other forms of funding,” she adds.

On the charity front, Myerscough has invited some of her artists to create an object that “memorialises a personal response to the current crisis”. Ten percent of sales are being donated to support the critical care unit of London’s NHS Whittington Hospital, where the gallery artist Maisie Broadhead’s sister, Zoë, works. The first two pieces being proposed are a portrait of Zoë by Broadhead, a photographer, and ‘Cocoon Cabinet’ miniatures by French artist Marlène Huissoud.

Marlène Huissoud, 'Cocoon Cabinet #5 Miniature', 2020 COURTESY: Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Marlène Huissoud, ‘Cocoon Cabinet #5 Miniature’, 2020
COURTESY: Sarah Myerscough Gallery

Looking forward, Philippe Jousse, owner of Jousse Entreprise in Paris, is trying to feel optimistic about the postponement of DesignMiami/ Basel until September. As he says, “After this horrible period, I’m imagining a dynamic, sublime fair where new attitudes will have been adopted in harmony with the planet and the economy.”

Kristin McKirdy, 'Untitled', 2018 COURTESY: © Galerie Jousse entreprise

Kristin McKirdy, ‘Untitled’, 2018
COURTESY: © Galerie Jousse entreprise

DesignMiami/Basel will run from 15th-20th September 2020.

Article By

Anna Sansom
Anna Sansom is a British journalist, based in Paris, who writes about contemporary art, design and architecture.