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Unit London art gallery – shaking up London’s art market
by Benedict Browne
Without a doubt, London is firmly at the epicentre of the art world. Even though New York arguably might have more fabled permanent collections and Hong Kong’s presence is growing, London is frantically innovative and is stretching the parameters of the modern art market. It’s a fantastic melting pot of creativity and culture and one gallery that’s at the centre of it all is the Unit London, a forward-thinking and profoundly creative contemporary art gallery that’s tearing up the rulebook and is earning its rightful seat at the big boy’s table.
Founded by millennials Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt in 2013, with their art degrees, ambition, and smartphones, the entrepreneurs set about using Instagram to source the most exciting contemporary artists and inviting them to join their Unit. Fast forward to today and bricks and mortar are its physical confines, even though some business is still conducted through the app, and they’re currently showing out of Covent Garden.
A stone’s throw from the hustle-and-bustle of Kensington High Street in a superlative, quiet Ivar apartment, I meet Chris, Senior Consultant at the Unit London. A few years ago Chris switchedhis working environment, boldly opting for a career that’s vibrant in colour and texture from a career in Wall Street. “My first year was really hard,” he says but he has injected a perhaps needed dose of refined business acumen into the business. “You can’t do the creative side unless the business side is also there,” he says. With a proven track record of excelling with high-net-worth clients, Chris joined the Unit in April 2015. “I heard about these two young guys who were starting up a gallery and I went and met them. I walked around the gallery and the art on the walls was just so different to all the other art in London in the way it was curated and hanging. But it also had a spark to it. There was something there,” he explains with his excitedly gesturing hands. “Art is much more about feeling than it is about visual sometimes. Of course, it’s visual but to me, the best type of art is when you feel it and what it makes you think. When I walked into the gallery, I was inspired.”
The Unit London is not limited to one particular genre or medium, but instead strives to represent the best emerging artists. “We look for originality, someone who is unique but also technically gifted. I would say that our top five selling artists all use different mediums, too.” The Unit’s top-selling artist is Ryan Hewitt — a self-taught painter who uses oil to create contemporary surrealist portraits that are nothing but highly engaging — who is highly sought after, particularly by the bigger galleries. Hewitt is part of a tight-knit group of “core artists who all feed into this young energy.” explains Chris. Despite the gallery being in its infancy, it’s got its sights set on joining the big boy’s table. “It’s a very young gallery but we have so much energy” Chris exclaims excitedly. “We are thinking about moving to Mayfair and into a space that’s bigger than our current one. We want to level up.” Chris and his colleagues aren’t getting ahead of themselves, though. “We’re not up there with the Gagosians or Blain Southerns, yet, but to secure a space across the street would get us a seat at the table.” Whilst the aforementioned galleries have earned their reputation over numerous decades, the fact that the Unit London is less than five years old is astonishing and the way its covered so much ground is through hard work and utilising Instagram from the latter’s infancy, which is a tool that few established galleries used until recently.
Real estate aside, another string to the gallery’s bow is the dynamic approach it takes with its clientele. “I do a lot of studio visits with our artists that I will bring clients to. It feels more like you’re collaborating with the artist, especially if it’s a commission piece.” This, in turn, develops trust, a smart business move that creates loyal and thirsty collectors. “We don’t hide our artist from our clients,” Chris points out and continues to explain that the main requirement of his job is to develop collectors, which hones back to his work on Wall Street. “I want to make sure that they are buying it for different reasons. Everyone buys for different reasons but I want to make sure that it’s the right reasons. I want to make sure that they’re ticking off the important ones and ultimately have a connection to it emotionally, visually and intellectually.” From working with private collectors and art foundations, the Unit London has curated a multitude of spaces. One of its star exposition projects later this year will be in an Ivar penthouse in the newly redeveloped Centre Point, which will have incredible views over the London sky-line. With prices starting from £5,000, this will be a go-to event for both the elementary and veteran collector alike.