Running a nomadic art gallery

 9 August 2011

Jack Gibbon is founder and director of the Antlers Gallery, a 'nomadic' gallery with no permanent residence and produces temporary exhibitions within different spaces across Bristol.

During his studies Jack volunteered for galleries to gain experience (© Max McClure).
During his studies Jack volunteered for galleries to gain experience (© Max McClure).

Exhibitions in pop-up gallery spaces

Antlers Gallery is one of the newest additions to Bristol's vibrant art scene. Launched in September 2010, the gallery's first exhibition – Grotesques – opened in a disused retail space. Subsequent shows have taken place in various spaces throughout the city that would otherwise lie empty.

"The nomadic way of working allows us to break down some of the barriers between the gallery and the outside world."

"I wanted to create a sustainable gallery business based in Bristol."

There are lots of benefits to the gallery's nomadic ethos. Exhibiting in a 'pop-up' way reduces expensive overheads such as rent and rates.

Instead, the gallery can set up exhibitions in, "higher profile spaces that we could otherwise not afford, raising the profile of the gallery to new audiences and making it easier for our known audience to make it to the shows."

Also, by keeping running costs down, "we can be highly selective as to what we promote and only have shows with work that we truly believe in."

From art student to gallery director

Jack initially studied photography at the Arts Institute Bournemouth, graduating with a BA (Hons). During his studies he volunteered for a number of galleries gaining experience in areas such as exhibitions, community involvement and education. After graduating, Jack went to work full time for Damien Hirst as a Studio Assistant.

"This job gave me a real breadth of knowledge. From technical skills in installing works to negotiation skills buying in equipment for the studio and artworks – all useful stuff for running a gallery."

After working at the Affordable Art Fair for Bath based gallery Edgar Modern, Jack began to see a gap in the market "for a gallery that represents emerging artists with skill based practices that explore interesting, darker themes."

Broadening the accessibility of art

"One-off projects seem to be really popular at the moment. I can see this spreading into a more sustained business model."

As well as exhibiting and selling original art works, Antlers also sell limited-edition prints, both via their exhibitions and online shop.

"The good thing about prints is that it gives more people a more accessible way into owning a part of what they love but might otherwise be unable to afford."

The gallery recently produced an edition of playing cards with artist Mr Mead. The suit of 52 individually designed cards, accompanied Mr Mead's solo exhibition Dark Suits which ran from April to May 2011 in a disused retail unit in central Bristol.

"There is real value in having a unique original works,' says Jack, but 'by producing really high quality limited edition prints where the attention to quality is still paramount the prints can function as their own works."

The gallery is currently working on similar projects with artists, as well as offering services such as art consultancy and installation of works.

"I guess we sit somewhere between being a dealer with no space, being a fixed-space exhibitions gallery and being an art consultant.

"I think that the nomadic way of working only enhances our business, allowing us to break down some of the barriers between the gallery and the outside world."

4 tips for artists looking for gallery representation

1. Consider if your work fits the gallery programme

Look closely at a gallery's website and exhibition programme. "I hate being copied into general artist spam email."

2. Follow the gallery's application procedure

"As much as I like to meet people in the gallery, that is not the right time to make an application." Introduce yourself in person, then consider making an application by email with:

  • covering letter
  • CV
  • links to your web presence
  • around 10 relevant images of under 1MB each.

"Showing someone your work on an iPhone does not give your work the attention that it deserves."

3. Build a network of contacts

Jack has not taken on many artists that have applied directly to the gallery.

"I often find artists through referrals, people who know my taste, understand the values of the gallery and know someone that they think I would like to work with."

4. Keep producing art work

"Just keep on making. Make exactly what you want to make, otherwise people will see through it and you will struggle to have the confidence to really stand behind (or in front) of it."

Working in the Bristol art scene

"I wanted to create a sustainable gallery business based in Bristol."

"Bristol has so much going on art and culture wise. It is a real hot bed for production, so it is really easy to go out and meet artists."

The gallery also has a good relationship with Bristol's artist studio complexes. "With Antlers, we have artists from most of the major studio bases...working cooperatively can often make the artist up their game and become more engaged professionally."

Jack is looking forward to the future. "After our current show, Anatomy, closes we will be consolidating the work that we have done so far, revamping web content, upping our web promotion and programming a couple of new really exciting projects for the end of the year."

Next year, Antlers will focus on more solo and group exhibitions in pop-up venues and art fairs further afield.

"One-off pop-up projects seem to be really popular at the moment. I can see this spreading into a more sustained business model. But then again, it has worked for us due to the recession. In more prosperous times there may not be the same number of suitable properties on the market."


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