You are here
A location can make or break a gallery
CHRIS CHURCHER'S mantra for a successful gallery business is almost too simple: location, location, location. His spacious, well-appointed Redsea Gallery is located in the popular lifestyle hub on Dempsey Hill, just next to Jones the Grocer. "People come in with a cup of coffee, they buy from next door, and they stay for a long time looking at the art," says Mr Churcher.
A former currency trader who switched to the art business in 2002, he recalls: "When I saw this space, I had a vision of an intimate gallery with a network of walls and many nooks and crannies where people can get lost in."
Because of its accessible location and elegant surroundings, the 5,736 sq ft gallery also doubles as a venue for hire. Some of his art clients throw birthday parties, private dinners and corporate functions there.
The Englishman says: "We also have good dinner parties for our clients when we have one of our artists in town. We get our chef in and serve good wine and food. It's nice for the artists to talk to quality people."
He admits that since art fairs started to dominate the market in recent years, his gallery has seen a decline in sales volume. But he's managed to make up for it by sourcing for more quality artists whose price points are higher. "I'm a businessman. My previous career has taught me to spot mistakes instantly and sort them out."
The gallery has taken part in several art fairs here and abroad, including the Affordable Art Fair Singapore, Art Stage and Art Sydney. But Mr Churcher himself is a little wary of the surge of art fairs here. Last year, for instance, there were nine art fairs in Singapore, compared to just three in 2010.
He says: "When there are this many art fairs in a relatively small city, it becomes ridiculous. It's the same with anything - furniture, cars, fashion - too much of it and people get bored. There's little anticipation for the next event. It kills the fun. It weakens the market."
He also regrets the upcoming closure of five galleries in Gillman Barracks. He feels the art cluster has potential but needs to be better conceived.
He says: "Gillman Barracks can work, but it needs to evolve into a lifestyle destination, instead of just an art cluster. You need the right people to make it successful - a few mavericks here, a few established people there. You need logic and fun. And you definitely need some more restaurants. Part of the reason why Dempsey is so popular is because of its retail mix... The right people can make that happen for Gillman."
Mr Churcher believes variety is important to the success of any enterprise. Redsea Gallery represents a diverse group of Western and Eastern artists. He says: "People tell me you can't sell European art in Asia. Well, we sell a lot of European art here."
His bestselling artists include French sculptor Val and Korean painter Jieun Park. His top draw, however, is Anna Berezovskaya, a 28-year-old Russian sensation who's seen the price of her works rise exponentially in recent years. Mr Churcher says: "When I first started working with Anna, she was only 23. The people who were interested in her works were Western collectors. My Asian clients told me they only wanted Asian art. But I continued to show her works here and over time, my Asian clients started to express interest in her works... People need time to be exposed to an artist's work before you can get them interested." "In fact, over the years, I've seen a huge shift in my client base. When we started out, we were mostly selling to non-Asian collectors. But after 2007 or 2008, people here were no longer just talking about fine wine - they were talking about art. And we began selling to more and more Asian collectors. Now I'd say we have a balanced mix of Asian and non-Asian clients."
Rent is punishing. In less than a decade, it has risen to approximately double of what it was when Redsea Gallery first moved to Dempsey. Despite this and the onslaught of online galleries, Mr Churcher still believes in the bricks-and-mortar model for selling art. He also still relies on traditional advertising in magazines to get the word out.
He says: "I don't buy art online. I don't believe in it. Art deserves respect and deserves to be seen in a space that enhances it."
- Redsea Gallery is located at Block 9, Dempsey Road (next to Jones The Grocer). Tel: 6732-6711