Art market

How did they do that? Young gallery opens vast new Mayfair space

Despite soaring rents in the area, Unit London will open in former Citibank building on Hanover Square in June

Gallery founders Joe Kennedy, right, and Jonny Burt open in Mayfair Unit London

Few established galleries can afford to survive in London's Mayfair today, let alone emerging businesses. But the young entrepreneurs Joe Kennedy and Jonny Burt, co-founders of Unit London are investing in bricks and mortar by launching a 6,000 sq. ft gallery in the heart of Mayfair in June. The expansive new space, housed in the former Citibank building on Hanover Square, will launch with an exhibition of new paintings by the South African artist Ryan Hewett (16 June-14 July).

Kennedy and Burt founded Unit London in 2013, establishing pop-ups in Chiswick in west London, Soho and Covent Garden (the latter will continue to run as a satellite space for the next five years). The school friends are building up a primary artist roster with the UK artist Jake Wood-Evans, the Oregon-born Peter Gronquist and the Chinese artist Zhuang Hong Yi part of the gallery stable; prices for these artists’ works go up to £100,000. However, the duo are also moving into secondary market sales and will organise one-off projects with other international contemporary artists.

“Whilst we are a commercial space, our core mission is the identification, development and exposure of innovative artists,” Kennedy says, adding that some of the artists have stayed with the gallery since its inception. The business partners say they are not gallerists but rather “a brand”, and they insist that Unit London is entirely self-funded.

Kennedy and Burt think a combination of online and offline models is the future of galleries, and Burt describes social media as a "key vehicle" for the gallery. "Other dealers constantly think about how to use social media; we don’t clamp it on though; it is integrated into everything we do,” he says.

The pair say they communicate regularly with collectors such as Yusaku Maezawa on Instagram and their aim is to carry out sales transactions through the social media platform. They believe it is the best way to reach young would-be collectors who feel disconnected with the art industry.

But why bother with a physical gallery space? Whilst Instagram and the like can help engage with wider audiences, Kennedy and Burt think only by having a bricks and mortar gallery can dealers truly develop relationships with core collectors.