Has there ever been a better time to be an artist? With the proliferation of social media in the information age, people have more options, more tools, more influences; more everything. Whether it’s the Wikipedia entry on Fauvism or Geoff McFetridge’s Instagram, there are more ways than ever for people to immerse themselves in the visual arts, and in turn, synthesize their knowledge to create something new.
But wider audiences also mean an increased demand, which brings about a higher price tag. The democratization of the arts has produced a new gatekeeping elite, one that’s built on connections, access, and above all else, capital. For as great as your favorite local artist may be, good luck finding their work in a recognized gallery; if it hasn’t been seen by the right people, then it might as well not exist.
Since its founding in 2013, Unit London has sought to sift through the noise and champion individualistic art. Showcasing the likes of South African painter Ryan Hewett and celebrated visual artist Will Martyr, Unit London dispenses with hype in favor of quality and merit, a pursuit that has paid in dividends for the London-based art gallery and curatorial entity. Four years since its start, Unit London founders Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt have become something of celebrities in the art world, recognized for successfully blending their 21st century PR sensibilities with a refined taste for the exciting.
“We’ve always been inspired by incredible artists. And we’ve also had a sort of disdain for the art gallery world,” says co-founder Joe Kennedy. “You can go to galleries and you can see works by artists who aren’t necessarily that talented or gifted, but because of their commercial viability or because they know the right people, they are presented in visible spaces, in certain crowds, and they start selling work at inflated prices.”
Describing Unit London as a reaction to the perceived elitism of the art world, Kennedy and Burt have carved out a name for themselves by believing wholeheartedly in the ability of their showcased artists instead of their potential for large profit margins. As art outsiders themselves – having no gallery experience prior to founding Unit London -- the pair has deliberately set to provide a platform for artists whose work might not be featured elsewhere.
“Someone like Ryan Hewett is just pure talent; the stuff that he makes is unimpeachable,” says Kennedy. “A lot of our artists didn’t get classically trained. But its those people who are just gifted individuals, I think they’re the people the art world needs to support; people who have a natural, innate gift, that’s what needs to be celebrated and championed.”
With a 4,000 sq foot space in London and an internationally recognized brand, it would be easier than ever for Burt and Kennedy to become the very gatekeepers they disdained. Instead, they’re remained true to their iconoclastic ethos by aggressively promoting the Unit London brand on social media. Beyond the pleasures of the here and now, Kennedy feels confident that Unit London’s innovations on social media platforms will ensure its longevity.
“In the future, ten, twenty, thirty years down the line, the new generation of collectors who are going to be coming through – who are now probably in their twenties – are going to be in their prime collecting age. But they’re going to have grown up with social media, they’re going to have grown up on mobile, and we’re the ones connecting with those people right now, so inadvertently it’s future-proofing us as well,” Kennedy says. “And a lot of the older, more established galleries are sort of looking over their shoulder and thinking ‘hang on, how are we going to be faring in ten years? How do we stay ahead of the curve?’ For us, it’s just natural.”
Even with inevitable advances in technology and their own progressive philosophy, Kennedy isn’t ready to dismiss the power of the pen and pad just yet.
“I’m a massive champion of the power of social media, but not in terms of substituting a physical work for an image on a screen,” Kennedy says. “You just can’t compare the experience of observing a painting on an Instagram feed to the experience you get seeing the work in the flesh. It will be monstrously difficult - if not impossible - to ever replace that experience.”
Check them out here: http://theunitldn.com