Alex Bowen wants to shake up the Brighton art market. His nomadic gallery, Neue Froth Kunsthalle, now has a permanent space in the basement at 31A Queen’s Road and its aim is to make a serious contemporary commercial gallery focused on paintings and selling to collectors.
He thinks there is a gap between the large Arts Council-funded institutions in Brighton – Fabrica, Phoenix Gallery – and the smaller commercial galleries, which tend to deal mainly in prints.
“That model in London of contemporary commercial galleries doesn’t exist in Brighton. I was keen to do that, using links between here and London, not ignoring that there is a lot of good work going on in Brighton which I’m keen to show too.”
It’s a question of economics and confidence. To sustain a gallery selling new contemporary work there needs to be a network of collectors who trust what they are buying. They need to have confidence in the gallery, the artist and the value of the work. It is a different proposition buying a print to hang in the kitchen.
“With contemporary art, people buy it because they like the work. But because it is more expensive, a lot has to do with the reputation of the artist.”
Thus strong links between an artist and gallery are beneficial – the artists are concerned about which galleries they show at and the galleries are concerned about their reputation and their buyers.
“That network doesn’t exist in Brighton at the moment. I am hoping that by putting on shows, collectors will sense something is happening and artists from other places will see Brighton as somewhere viable to show contemporary art.”
Bowen says he is not being pejorative and puts on art he likes.
“I won’t be disappointed if there are no buyers because these things continue.
“You find a way to self-fund but of course it would be ideal if there is a gallery that is developing a reputation and has some connection to collectors in Brighton and can sustain itself.”
He’s worked as a writer for galleries – penning catalogue essays, curating, making publications for shows. He still works regularly with Tom Winterburn at Jeffrey Charles Henry Peacock Gallery in London.
Supporting local artists
Last year he put on shows at a friend’s flat in Terminus Road, Brighton, and then in random one-off locations such as Hotel du Vin in Ship Street. Each time the gallery had a different name.
“The gallery started with a variety of names which kept changing with every show. It was mainly to avoid being pinned down before somebody got to look at the work.
“In the end Neue Froth Kunsthalle stuck. Froth is the idea that we are by the sea, neue is German for new, and Kunsthalle is German for art hall.”
He has begun representing artists, including two from Brighton: Max Gimson and Daniel Yáñez González.
Gimson is a painter and recent Brighton University graduate who filled up a bath with black paint to launch his show in Terminus Street last year.
Yáñez González is a video artist and writer who champions individualism. “He brings something new and different to the gallery.”
Neither artist features in the gallery’s opening show on January 19, though Christopher Stevens, a Brighton-based artist and senior lecturer in art at Brighton University, is one of nine chosen to exhibit in the former Grey Area gallery.
“Stevens is an incredible painter,” says Bowen. “Normally he works in a photo-realist style, which is incredibly time-consuming and precise. For this show his work is more abstract. There is something exciting seeing someone technically skilled being free with his brush, still having a sense of mastery but being much looser.”
The show is the first of three in as many months under the title ****. This month’s theme is erotic. The work is painterly, though Bowen admits there is more of a connection to 1970s porn than still-life or studies of the human body. Most of the 40 or so works are small: A3 or A4 size.
“The work is tied together around that word [erotic]. It is small, dark and intimate.”
Most of the work selected with artist Kate Lyddon has not been seen before.
“Some is quite surprising in terms of what you would expect from them, in that it is stylistically similar but a departure from their usual work.”
Neal Tait, represented by London’s White Cube gallery; Dan Coombs, represented by The Fine Art Society; and Caroline Achaintre, a craft artist and sculptor who is represented by Arcade Fine Art, all present new work.
“I really like Caroline’s work,” he adds. “Her use of colour is incredible. She can take something that could be quite ugly but the way in which she plays around with it, the colours she works in, turn potentially ugly things into really quite beautiful objects.”
Neue Froth Kunsthalle, Queen’s Road, Brighton, until February 3. Tuesday to Sunday 4pm to 7pm. Call 07939 843509