Commercial Galleries in Copenhagen, London and Reykjavík: a comparative study of the formations, contexts and interactions of galleries founded between 1985 and 2002
thesisposted on 10.02.2020, 14:14 by Ynda Eldborg Gestsdóttir
This study situates the commercial gallery operator, or ‘gallerist’, in the context of art world conceptions. Specifically it examines the contexts and activities of gallerists in Copenhagen, London’s East End and in Reykjavik in the era of the Young British Artists and the revitalised art market that phenomenon engendered. Drawing upon interviews with gallerists and studies of urban culture and environments, this thesis reveals that gallerists are driven by creativity and artistic vision, often at the expense of market awareness. The London and Copenhagen gallerists saw themselves as pioneers who through their actions not only established new art businesses but developed new cultural quarters in these cities. The tiny capital city of Reykjavík exposed the significance of scale and position; its new galleries remained within the comfort zone of established art institutions in the city centre. They were small and internationally isolated, and appeared much like those found in provincial cities in larger countries. Copenhagen also lacked the world city status of London and its gallerists sought recognition and buyers through international art fairs. In contrast, London found itself at the heart of an international art world. Galleries were established in such numbers in the East End as to produce an art world momentum of its own. Gallerists in the more cosmopolitan settings of London and Copenhagen possessed a greater sense of community; those in constrained markets of Reykjavik retained a small-town competitiveness. The creative desires of gallerists were also reflected in their proactive pursuit of artists; it was they who decided what to show and who to patronise. While the majority of gallerists favoured art with a conceptual edge, all denied that they were specialising in this work. They emphasised the diversity of the works on sale. The London and Copenhagen markets were mature markets but those in Reykjavík appeared more regulated. Within these cities it was possible by these means to detect distinctive art worlds as products of, and woven into, the cities they inhabited.