Unit London prides itself on being an open and transparent institution whose purpose is to expand and diversify contemporary art audiences. Unit London has become synonymous with the pioneering use of social media and digital content. The gallery endeavours to act as an orator and mediator: telling the story of today’s most gifted artists, whilst bridging the gap between the physical and virtual spheres of the art world; connecting people with the art they love. Convelio spoke to them to learn more about the business model, and ways that the traditional gallery formula can be adapted to meet the needs of our current situation, and a contemporary audience of art buyers.
Art & Tech /Online
Why is an online presence so important for art businesses?
The art world (as the name suggests) is an incredibly global enterprise. It’s a large and complex industry that spans every time zone. A strong online presence makes this scale more manageable. Although the art world is a social one and human interaction is still at its core, the ability for collectors to connect with artists and galleries around the world, at any time, is a wonderful development that’s added another level of intricacy to the collective model.
What advice could you give to a gallery who is starting to create an online presence - what tools are useful?
It’s important to listen to the people who are following you. Good web design and social media content is important, but if you’re not listening to the people it’s aimed at you’ll quickly lose them. This doesn’t just mean you should read all the comments on a specific post, it means pay attention to data, work out when your audience is particularly engaged and when they’re slightly more ambivalent. This doesn’t mean you have to always cater to what the majority want to see, but it’s useful information nonetheless.
What are some of your top tips for a gallery to increase their visibility on instagram?
Be consistent, post on a schedule, follow it religiously. Try not to deviate from that structure and end up posting too much. And, as previously mentioned, respond to people who’re engaging with your posts. People look through their social media accounts for all sorts of reasons, but the main reason they’re there is to engage with something, something they’re interested in or something that inspires them, if you can be the account that does that, visibility won’t be an issue.
What is your vision for a seamless experience for buying art online? We would love to hear your thoughts specifically about ecommerce and the ‘click and buy’ model...
In the art world, due to the presence of extreme wealth, the click and buy model is not always the best way to operate. Galleries, artists and collectors all thrive on control: the artist controls the amount of work, the gallery controls who buys it and the collectors (in all their forms) control the market from there. A click and buy model relinquishes this control and therefore a lot of galleries would never consider it. However, sometimes (take our print release platform Unit Drops for example) it can be beneficial to democratise the buying process, make the sale first come first served and you drum up anticipation, start a conversation, and ultimately give people the chance to buy art they otherwise might not be able to get their hands on.
Art market & Art world
How do you discover and select your artists?
We select artists from a range of different sources - some are found through instagram; some contact us at the gallery; some are established artists who may have fallen out with their old gallery; or young artists who have just put on their grad-show; then there are people we know and have been following for a while.
How do you differentiate yourself from other galleries?
I think we’re quite easily differentiated. In the top 5% of galleries in the world there’s very little variation - not just in terms of the business model but also in aesthetic, in the way the company feels and deals, it’s all very similar. We’re offering something a bit fresher, the gallery experience has become stale, cold and self conscious… Three things that art shouldn’t be about.
What are your thoughts on the Art market becoming more and more transparent in terms of pricing?
I think this is a great thing. It allows more people, typically younger people, to educate themselves on the goings-on of the market, which is something that may eventually help them to enter it themselves. When you’re in the business of selling art, the more people that are engaged and want to buy the better. The way to engage these new younger buyers is not to keep prices hidden from them, they’ve come of age in a society where access to information is a universal right, to deny them this right no longer causes intrigue, now it just causes annoyance,
Covid19 & Art market
What do you believe the post Covid 19 art world will look like?
I think we have to accept it’s going to be difficult. Art is obviously a luxury market that suffers at times of economic crisis. Although fewer people may be buying I don’t think there will be a huge drop off in terms of engagement. Most galleries are perfect spaces for social distancing so hopefully footfall won’t drop too massively. The opening parties will have to stop for a while but they’ll be back, like everything else.
What have been some of your priorities, and main learnings, from the COVID 19 crisis?
We started the gallery seven years ago and since then have been working pretty much non-stop. This little hiatus has actually given us our first opportunity to slow down, look back and assess how far we’ve come, and where we’d like to go next. I think a lot of people have used this time in the same way: mainly as a period of contemplation and reflection.
In a few years you managed to grow exponentially, what are the next steps for Unit London? Do you have any plans for international expansion - if so what locations would you consider?
Yes the plan is to open another gallery overseas. We’re at a stage now where our London operation is thriving and we have the ability to step back and turn our attention elsewhere. Due to the pandemic it’s only natural that these plans have been delayed slightly but it’s certainly something that is on the horizon.
Unit London has become a leading voice for art galleries going online, with the impending launch of the events side of the business Unit X, this could be seen as a return to the physical gallery and in person events. Can you speak to us a little bit about this?
Unit X is our incredibly exciting events company. We have our main space in Hanover Square and a new events-only space in Covent Garden called The Stables (opening soon). We thought it would be remiss to use these spaces just for showing art and have therefore made them available for private hire. The Hanover Square gallery is already an established events venue whereas The Stables is an exciting opportunity to host unique and varied events.
Artists: Jake wood,Oh De Laval, Ryan Hewett, Tishk Barzanji, Michael Staniak, Peter Gronquist, Zhuang Hong-yi