Physical art exhibitions can expose artists to a new audience and drive sales but there are many factors to take into consideration to ensure success.
Having exhibited at the same space in Shepherd’s market for six years with Niches and Nuances, I really thought I had the planning of my annual show down to a fine art. It had been a whole two years since I’d shown at Gallery 54 in Mayfair, as in 2021 we hired out No Format gallery in Deptford and I was happy to be exhibiting once again in the heart of London, just a stone’s throw from Green Park.
Gallery 54 is a very special place and when I speak to any of the other artists who rent this gallery we all feel privileged to have access to this gallery in it’s picturesque surroundings. It’s like a beautiful village oasis.
This year we were sponsored by the film company MK Cypher Film Productions as well as Myst drinks who generously supported us by providing their fabulous tequila and rum spirits which went down well at our private view. It is always wonderful to connect with new and old faces at the exhibition. I had also interviewed an artist during lockdown on my instagram live series and met him in person at the gallery for the first time.
August 2022 threw us some curveballs. I’ve always rented this space in August and have five other summers to compare this one against. Of course during covid, one expected some lower numbers which was indeed the case. But in this post- lock down world I had not expected the dearth of visitors that we experienced this year.
Shepherd’s market is always a hive of activity whatever time of the year with pretty boutiques, restaurants and at least three pubs within walking distance from each other. However, this year seemed much quieter, a combination of many factors coming together. Less tourists seemed to be dining at the various restaurants which could be because of the weather, with searing heat on the Monday and Tuesday, storms on the Wednesday and travel strikes later that week.
One other artist who rents the gallery said that he thought that the ‘old boys’ were no longer visiting Mayfair as they had done prior to the pandemic and were now staying away as they are worried about the virus. There are many private member’s clubs on Pall Mall frequented by aristocrats and several exclusive restaurants in Shepherd’s Market which have historically drawn this type of clientele. A frequent visitor to the gallery said that they noticed the restaurants were spilling more onto the streets recently and taking over the pavements, thus hindering the visibility of the gallery.
In 2018 we had a peak number of visitors at 300 and had a solid average of around 200 visitors most other years, excluding 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic. Only fifty visitors came to the gallery, thirty of which came to the private view and were known to us and another ten were friends and family that came on other days. Just 10 others were those walking in from the street. A drop of 75% in visitor numbers since N&N’s heyday has had a significant impact on sales. N&N has a mailing list who range from collectors, buyers and general contacts that have been made over the years. The whole point of hiring a space in Mayfair is not only to invite friends and family for an annual reunion but also to capture and connect with international tourists and business people who are wandering around this unique area. When those clients are less visible, it directly affects the feel, ambience and commercial success of the exhibition.
It wasn’t all bad, though. One of the highlights of the week was hosting both filmmaker Michael Kasirivu and actor Ellis Witter who interviewed me talking about our summer show. N&N also launched it's online shop at just before the physical exhibition launch. The experience this year reinforces that physical exhibitions are a gamble and heavily reliant on passing trade. The combination of external factors this year such as the extreme weather patterns, TFL travel disruption and the general changes in the area during the pandemic have exasperated the fragile relationship any gallery has with it’s local and visiting population. Every effort must be made to continually analyse these forces of nature and also changes in the market. There is no doubt that Shepherd's market is going through a change and also the art marker continually changes in terms of how artists engage with their audience, both on and offline. N&N will continue to develop to keep abreast of these changes.