Hello, I’m Amrita and I’m a mad gallerist. This is my story.
I didn’t grow up wanting to own an art gallery. In fact, it was something that came to me in my thirties, as I started collecting art and began brokering sales between my artist friends and my art-buying friends. From there the thought of having an actual gallery stayed in the back of my mind like a itch that never got scratched but never went away, either.
Four years ago I was house hunting in Toronto and walked by a building that had street level retail spaces for sale. It took me all of 24 hours to decide that I could wait to own a house but I couldn’t pass up on a chance to open a gallery so the next day I plunked down a deposit and the place was mine.
I had no idea what I was doing, looking back at where I was two years ago, but I think that was a blessing, because I may have chickened out if I knew what was entailed in running an art business in Toronto. What I did know was that in my experience as a collector, most contemporary art galleries were not welcoming places (exceptions include the wonderful Sherman Galleries in Sydney), and I wanted to lower the veil so to speak and make buying art a more enjoyable experience particularly for those new to collecting.
It’s no exaggeration to say it took a village to open the gallery. From the friends who donated graphic design work to those that pitched in to do renovations, paint walls and hang shows, it was incredibly moving to see how many people came together to help me realize a dream.
I describe my approach to the gallery as one that appreciates the perspective of the collector and the artist, having been the former, and befriending many of the latter. It dismayed me to hear stories of gallery owners who took months to pay their artists or didn’t pay them the agreed amount. On the other hand, I try to help the artists I work with appreciate what it takes to run my business, being as transparent as I can about our expenses that justify the large commission the gallery receives.
What have I learned 18 months into owning tinku gallery?
Galleries are not one size fits all. There are many ways in which art galleries can exist. I started off having the gallery open 5 days a week, then slowly moved away from public hours for walk-ins to viewings by appointment. My sales have not suffered as a result and I’ve been able to keep things very personalized and of course did this also to keep my costs under control.
Galleries are not dead. While there has never been a better time for artists to reach collectors directly, there are many art buyers who prefer to buy from a gallery because it is easier to choose from a curated collection rather than what can be an overwhelming myriad of options. And then some just buy from galleries because of the perceived status it gives them.
Gallery models need to evolve. This relates to my first two points. In Toronto for example, I notice there is no shortage of galleries but the truth is, many of them (including mine) follow a pretty traditional model – white walls, monthly exhibitions and openings. I love seeing new spaces that open that experiment with the idea of gallery – mobile, temporary, multi-disciplinary. I’d like to experiment more myself.
The web is my friend. The number of people I have visiting my gallery online through my website or Twitter of Facebook is many multiples of the number that come in through my doors. To not tap into that is a missed opportunity. I’m glad I got a headstart before many other galleries in town.
Running a gallery is damn hard! I always laugh when I hear people tell me that running a gallery is a glamorous job. Perhaps it’s glamorous for people like Dasha Zhukova, but hey, I don’t have a billionaire boyfriend and don’t plan to anytime soon! I never knew how much work went into running a gallery – from the artist’s end, making the work, often over the course of many months or years – to everything from lugging around cases of wine to cleaning toilets (yes I clean my own toilet) to managing shipments from around North America. The other parts that seem glamorous – hanging out with my artists, standing around drinking wine at my openings, being surrounded by art that excites me and inspires me – are certainly fun indeed and what makes all the hard stuff bearable.
My life as a gallerist continues to surprise me and I would love to revisit this blog post a year from now and see where I am and how the gallery has evolved. What I do know is that it has been an incredibly exciting adventure that has brought amazing new people and experiences to my life and that my love for art only grows more each day as a result.
You can learn more about Amrita and tinku gallery.