Surprisingly for someone with such an acclaimed career – in 2019 she was one of four Turner Prize-winning artists – British artist Tai Shani has never had commercial exposure in the UK. That changes next month with the opening of Gathering, a new gallery launching in London’s Soho on October 6.
Spanning two floors and 3,000 square feet, the new venture is the brainchild of curator Trinidad Fombella, who previously worked at the Whitechapel Gallery, and Alex Flick, who founded East London project space UNIT9 in 2015. The couple, who fund the gallery themselves, say their program will focus on contemporary international artists who are marginalized or underrepresented, or whose practices “move away from the product” or address issues and themes systemic issues such as gender, race, queer culture, colonialism and the environment.
Discussion about the new gallery began before the pandemic, which itself caused “re-evaluation and re-evaluation,” says Flick. Fombella adds: “We felt the need to create a new platform in London that explores new ways of exhibiting work, showing artists who may not have representation or have never exhibited in London before.”
The goal is to represent artists, but the founders say they are “looking for the best way to do that”. They want to work with artists in an “experimental way”, adds Fombella.
Shani will inaugurate the new space with a personal exhibition, which will present the third and probably the last installment of her neon hieroglyph film series, which is inspired by his research into the history of ergot, a fungus that grows on rye and other grains from which LSD is derived. For Shani, the psychedelic is a space that supports new feminist visions of society. In the basement, she will present a new series of sculptures, bas-reliefs, watercolors and acrylic paintings inspired by her films.
Painting is a relatively new start for the artist who says she started creating watercolors during lockdown when she couldn’t get into her studio. She is also very conscious of the commercialization of painting versus the immersive installations that have defined her career to date. As Shani says, “The market favors wall work. Medium is much more market-specific than context-specific – obviously there are things to consider with large setups such as logistics.
To date, the artist has funded her practice by working in academia, as a tutor at the Royal College of Art. “There was definitely a long period where I felt there was some freedom if you worked in academia to support yourself,” she says. “But academia itself has changed a lot, especially in the UK, and the neoliberal model it has gone with seems very depersonalized.” Basically, she adds, “you can’t really match the fees to the amount of work the artists are doing.”
Although Shani has so far successfully circumvented the market – she notes that her practice “doesn’t fit neatly into a business context” – she acknowledges that the buck doesn’t necessarily end with the music industry. ‘art. “I criticize the market, but I also criticize the whole system in which we operate – society really needs an urgent overhaul. The art world suffers from the same problems as society as a whole,” she says.
This is something Flick and Fombella seem to be acutely aware of. Flick’s family history is, in his own words, “one that brings shame.” He comes from a family of wealthy German industrialists whose eponymous conglomerate used forced labor from Nazi concentration camps. Her great-grandfather, Friedrich Flick, was convicted of war crimes at the Nuremberg Trials in 1947 and spent four years in prison.
Of his ancestry, Flick says he is “fully engaged in open dialogue”, adding: “I am transparent about my family history and the origins of my personal capital, some of which comes from my great-grandfather’s wealth. dad”. He notes that he and Fombella discussed his great-grandfather’s involvement in the National Socialist regime with colleagues and artists – “and we are grateful for their faith in our vision of Gathering”.
So, as Europe teeters on the brink of a deep recession amid a war-fueled energy crisis, are collectors becoming more socially conscious? Fombella thinks so. “I would say that collectors are becoming more and more vocal. They really want to support the issues they care about,” she says.
The curator notes how many of the artists they plan to work with – Madeleine Hunt Ehrlich, Abigail Deville, Kiyan Williams and Elia Alba among them – “are very successful institutionally but don’t have a platform to reach private collections” .
While the gallery’s founders recognize that the relationship between the market and cutting-edge works can be complex, Fombella says, “We both have an extensive network of collectors; in many cases, they are individuals who have supported institutional exhibitions of difficult works. We believe we can build new relationships and grow the market for these artists so they can continue to practice despite all the pressures of today’s world.