Updated: Sep 7, 2022
It’s easy to get the feeling that art is elitist. The established art world is, for all intents and purposes, an environment with tight boundaries that define what is ‘good’ art (i.e. what artworks make a good investment) and what is ‘bad’ art (i.e. what artworks fail to make a return on investment). This art world is refereed by traditional gatekeepers including high-profile curators, collectors, auction house advisors, museum directors and famous gallerists. They decide what’s valuable and what’s not, within an extremely tight set of parameters. Together, they also maintain a clear circle of who’s in and who’s out - and most of us, let’s face it, are out. This doesn’t exactly leave us with a warm and inclusive feeling, encouraging us to discover new talent, does it? So, how do you discover new, exciting artists?
Amy Wiggin next to her work 'You're so fit' at House of Saint Barnabas, 2022
Here's what I suggest: step off the beaten track of the established art world, and go seek talent elsewhere. Here are my four top tips for where to start:
TIP 1: THE SMALLER THE BETTER
In general, I prefer smaller venues exhibiting artists, as I tend to feel overwhelmed by large venues and art fairs with too many artworks piled in and crowded together. Since I’m based in London, the smaller galleries I’ve enjoyed visiting includeD contemporary and the House of Saint Barnabas which runs a great programme of emerging and established artists, bringing to the fore exciting talents at groovy parties. hARTSlane Gallery in New Cross has an interesting programme of installations and exhibitions by a wide-variety of emerging-artists. Lastly, V.O. Curations is a fantastic gallery showing work from a diverse cohort of early to mid-career artists
Installation by Anna Wachsmuth, Goldsmith's MA Degree Show 2022
Top tip: get on the private view list, it’s easier than you think. Just email the gallery and ask to be put on the list, this way, you can meet the artists as well as see their work.
TIP 2: VISIT OPEN STUDIOS
I usually keep an eye out for Open Studios run by artists. This is when artists use their own studios to exhibit work in an informal way and meet potential buyers over a period of several days. It’s always exciting to visit makers in the environment where their works were actually made, and the atmosphere is often more friendly and open than at a gallery. There is one coming up in Crouch End in mid-September which I would recommend. As part of Dulwich Festival, artists also run open studio days. To find out more about open studios, check out your local news outlets and search on Instagram.
TIP 3: WHERE TO BUY ART ON A BUDGET
If you want to dip your toe into buying work from emerging artists, a good option is to visit the ING Discerning Eye exhibition to encounter a broad range emerging talent at affordable prices. The next exhibition is due to open in November 2022 in the Mall Galleries, London. All the artwork is on sale, and is all set at affordable prices because all are small-scale works.
If you are undeterred by the high octane, densely packed stalls atmosphere, then do give a go to an art fair. Their advantage: they present a very wide selection, which is less curated, so you get much more of a variety of styles of art and artists. The Other Art Fair is a good start. You can check out our review of The Other Art Fair 2021 here, to get a sense of how the fair works. They run several events per year in London, in Shoreditch in October and in Kings Cross in the Spring. I have found the quality to be superior to the Affordable Art Fair, which is a bit of a mixed bag of work.
TIP 4: VISIT STUDENT SHOWS
Lastly, don’t forget about art schools degree shows - you can read our review of the 2022 graduate shows here. Once a year, BA and MA art students show their work at the end of the academic year between mid June and mid July, usually. There is a fascinating array of work on display: from the emotional, to the political, to the abject, and the ecological. Some degree shows are small and contained, others are sprawling and seemingly on steroids - you have to be well-prepared for the long-winded and the wacky! Comfortable footwear is a must when visiting large art school degree shows like at Central Saint Martins’ or the Royal College of Art. The vibrancy of artworks on display and the ability to speak to recent graduates is thrilling. Visiting degree shows can also help you get a good sense of what emerging artists are preoccupied with: what topics that they are tackling, what materials and styles they use, and what issues they think art should probe.
Above: artwork by Licia Santos, Slade Degree Show 2022
Right: Performance by Catinca Malamaire, Royal Academy 2022
I hope these tips will encourage you to explore the art world beyond “important” galleries and “famous” museums. Everywhere I look, I’m always amazed at the sheer quantity of art people make, and the diversity, curiosity and drive of its makers. Is there a small exhibition space you particularly love, open studios that you'd like to recommend? Get in touch to let us know!