20 August 2010

Pop-up galleries fighting back

By Rachel Sato Banks 
Poppy Sebire at her gallery

A leading voice from the Contemporary Art Society has dismissed the future of short-term galleries. Rachel Sato-Banks gauges the reaction of gallery owners to this criticism

Nobody likes being told their business will fail, and it’s particularly harsh when it comes from an organisation you respect.

But this is what happened to pop-up art galleries when Lucy Bayley, the Contemporary Art Society’s curator of national programs, said they are in danger of exceeding their sell-by date.

Not surprisingly, a raft of gallery owners have stepped up to defend the concept. Poppy Sebire’s gallery started as a pop-up and now has a permanent space. She said: “Pop-up was a way to get a foothold in the business early.

“It has the energy of a temporary fix while avoiding the burden of permanent overheads,” she added.

Many gallery owners believe that as well as helping emerging operators, pop-up allows galleries to break into new locations and target specific buyers.

 “It is a way of testing out spaces for further sales development,” said Ceri Hand, whose Liverpool-based gallery hopes to extend to London.

Hand predicts that short-term galleries are here to stay. She said: “I think the landscape will change in the next ten years. Public spending cuts mean that the industry has to utilise resources more effectively. The days of the giant mega-museum are over.”

However, other operators have taken on board some Bayley’s points, especially when it comes to the proliferation of gallery pop-ups.

“It’s already saturated. Pop-up is becoming a bit of a dirty word,” said Carlo Viglianisi, co-founder of Empty Shop, a Durham-based arts organisation that uses empty city centre retail outlets as temporary art spaces.

“Pop-up galleries always happen in a recession. It’s just that this time they’re in the limelight. They usually filter out.”

But Viglianisi isn’t pessimistic about the future. He said: “We always set out to be long-term. Sustainability is at our core.” Empty Shop is at its third location and has secured headquarters in a derelict building.

The key to long-term success will be differentiation. Max Reyner, researcher at Future Laboratory, which analyses the latest cultural trends, said: “Pop-up galleries need to be different, otherwise the market may well become oversaturated, as with anything.”

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