Meet the entrepreneurs catering to fresh crop of digitally-savvy art collectors
The young entrepreneurs create millions of impressions per week on Instagram.
Traditional art galleries risk losing out on a new generation of collectors if they do not evolve, an entrepreneur championing a new wave of artists has suggested.
Joe Kennedy, who co-founded the Unit London gallery with best friend Jonny Burt, said the adoption of social media platforms such as Instagram is breaking down elitist barriers in the art world.
Kennedy told the Press Association: “Social media essentially offers access to art… people can get on to Instagram, start following a gallery, start a conversation with an artist.
“It’s democratising the industry and it’s allowing young artists and creatives to tell their own stories.”
He added that although social media is not the “be all and end all”, it is shifting the values of the art world “back towards the product of the artist.”
Brand Unit London launched in 2013 as a pop-up at an old charity shop in Chiswick, west London.
Today it boasts a following of more than 200,000 art lovers on Instagram, with the young duo disrupting the traditional art market and contributing to a generational shift.
But their approach – which involves selling around 150 works of art over Instagram per week – is not with out its challenges, 28-year-old Kennedy told the Press Association.
When asked if the young founders faced resistance from old hands, he said: “(They) can push back on it but I don’t think it will change anything because, ultimately, it comes down to not what the art world wants to do anymore, it’s more what the culture wants to do and what people want to do, and more and more.
“Lots of galleries have amazing existing collector groups which they’re more than comfortable selling to still but in 30 years, if they’re not creating the connections and the conversations which we’re doing right now, then in 20, 30 years, when those collectors have moved on, they’re not going to have the relationships that we have with the next generation of collectors.”
The self-funded duo started in their early twenties, without connections to the industry or art qualifications.
“We just had a few artists that worked with us. It’s just a case of pushing back against constant uncertainty about whether we could do it or not.”
Their innovative business model, which relies a lot more on the power and reach of social media tools, means they can look beyond the art fair system – a system which he says some art dealers are becoming disillusioned with.
Traditional markers of success are changing as a result, from big-name art fairs to digital reach.
Kennedy said: “They’re becoming a little bit wary of the model ‘if I want to be successful, I have to go to this fair’ – that’s the marker of success for a lot of emerging to mid-level galleries. ‘If I can get into Frieze, then I’m a successful gallery’.
“But we don’t have that ambition at all because five million people a week are engaging with us from all around the world. That kind of audience, which is completely free, by the way, they’re engaging with us because they’ve actively followed us and want to be a part of what we’re doing.
“There’s a generational shift happening and I guess it’s creating a new environment and a new precedent for access to the market.”
Unit London opens at Mayfair’s 3 Hanover Square on Tuesday with an exhibition from South African artist Ryan Hewitt.