Established in 2015 and run by an all-female team of artists, BBA is a contemporary art gallery in the centre of Berlin, close to famous Alexanderplatz. BBA Gallery represents critically informed and poetic visions in strong, visually-compelling styles that cover a wide spectrum of media.
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When Renata Kudlacek and Nele Ouwens opened Berlin-based BBA Gallery in 2015, it was a small, artist-run project space. Four years later, BBA has evolved into a thriving gallery with an international roster that exhibits around the world. How did Kudlacek and Ouwens successfully scale their business? And what role did Artsy play in bringing more visibility to their artists and broadening their collector base?
About BBA Gallery
After transitioning from project space to professional gallery in 2017,Kudlacek and Ouwens spent the past two years setting their gallery and artists up for success. In addition to managing their physical location in Berlin, the co-directors have brought BBA online, establishing profiles across social media and Artsy to promote their program of emerging and mid-career artists that boasts a history of predominantly female representation. BBA’s diverse group of artists come from around the world, including Australia, France, the U.S., Slovakia, Spain, Denmark, and Poland.
BBA stands for Berlin Blue Art. Berlin Blue, now known as Prussian Blue, was invented in Berlin in 1706 and was the first modern pigment to be developed. True to its name, BBA’s artists are united by their “strong vision and visually compelling styles.” Today, the gallery shows works of all different media, from painting and video art to drawing and photography.
Faced with the challenge of transforming their artist-run project space into the professionally operating and international gallery they envisioned, the directors of BBA recognized that they needed eyes on their artists not just in Berlin, but around the world.
Their first step? Joining an online platform that could support them in this endeavor. “We wanted to go global right from the start, which is why we started with the Artsy platform for the first year of our gallery,” says Ouwens. “Artsy elevates your gallery to a level of seriousness that you don’t have if you’re not on the platform—being on Artsy is a stamp of being professional as a gallery.”
Their peers affirmed that Artsy provided the best opportunity to get their name into the art world ecosystem. “All of the big-player galleries in Berlin were on Artsy, and then some of the galleries we compare ourselves to, the smaller galleries that are bigger than project spaces, were also on Artsy. That was part of the research we did—we thought, ‘Okay, if they’re on it, we should be on it, as well.’”
Like any social platform, building a consistent and engaged following took time. But with consistent effort, they established their name on Artsy and a strong network of collectors to go with it. How did they do this?
Steps for Success
1. Give your artists the visibility they deserve
Practicing artists themselves, Kudlacek and Ouwens have always prioritized their gallery’s ethos of putting their artists first.
Kudlacek explains, “As artists ourselves, we know how fundamental it is to be given a chance to be seen and recognized for your work. We joined Artsy because we were looking to increase the visibility of our artists and the gallery.”
“We joined Artsy because we were looking to increase the visibility of our artists and the gallery.’”
Renata Kudlacek and Nele Ouwens, BBA Gallery
Notably, for BBA, “emerging artist’ does not mean ‘young’ or ‘fresh out of college,’ but rather references a stage of career, where artists have yet to gain recognition in the art market. “Being on Artsy is a great deal for our artists—worldwide visibility is a huge achievement and career booster for them,” observes Ouwens.
With Artsy’s tools, measuring this visibility is easy. And for a lean team like BBA, tracking success metrically is especially important when keeping track of one’s return on investment and what efforts are best serving their artists.
“Before we were on Artsy,” Ouwens remarks, “we had no idea how many people were looking at our artworks. Through the statistics we get with Artsy, we have numbers that tell us that there are tens of thousands of people sometimes per month that are looking at our artists and artworks. Of course, you could use Google analytics for your website to get a similar statistic for your website, but you will never get this amount of information or views without Artsy.”
While collectors may initially discover BBA’s artists through a Google search or from Artsy’s personalized recommendations, Owens shares that collectors satisfy their need to learn more about their programming and artists by browsing the gallery and artists’ profile pages. These pages include everything from an overview of the artist’s career to biographical information and press mentions. They also enable BBA to host online exclusive shows—specially curated online exhibitions that allow a collector to view works just as they would in person, even if they can’t make it to the gallery.
“Through the statistics we get with Artsy, we have numbers that tell us that there are tens of thousands of people sometimes per month that are looking at our artists and artworks.”
Renata Kudlacek and Nele Ouwens, BBA Gallery
2. Cultivate an international audience
For Kudlacek and Ouwens, scaling their artist-run project space to an international gallery required developing an international audience they could rely on to support their artists and program.
“Most collectors we meet through Artsy are international—Artsy is meant for us to contact or get contacted by collectors everywhere,” Ouwens and Kudlacek share.
While galleries once exclusively relied upon foot traffic and fairs to extend their network beyond their primary location, online platforms and the online art market as a whole make it possible for buyers to engage with and collect artists, regardless of their location. Not only does a broader collector base help support the careers of emerging artists, it also legitimizes the gallery by establishing recognition beyond the local art scene.
Ouwens recalls one particular story that highlights how easy a platform like Artsy makes it for collectors to buy from an artist they take an interest in.
“We had one collector [from Austria] recently who read an article about one of our artists, and then he Googled the artist,” Ouwens explains. “The first thing that came up was our Artsy profile. Through our Artsy profile, he contacted our gallery. We then had a meeting in the gallery where we showed him 10 artworks. In the end, he ended up buying three paintings from our artist Marina Roca Die.”
Though digital strategy is often discussed as if it exists in a silo, this experience highlights how online and offline efforts often work in tandem, which is why it’s so important to put equal effort into both.
3. Use Artsy to grow your professional gallery network
One unexpected benefit of BBA’s gallery partnership has been the networking opportunities with other galleries made possible by Artsy.
“Other gallerists on Artsy approach us and ask if we want to participate in a gallery exchange,” Kudlacek and Ouwens explain. “Being on Artsy is part of our global perspective. Collaborations and exchanges with other galleries and projects are something we do on a regular basis.”
“This happened most recently with Fann-A-Porter gallery in Dubai. Fann-A-Porter Gallery is also on Artsy and we showed in Dubai [this past February and March] and they presented their middle eastern artists at our gallery in Berlin. Many of the collectors in the Middle East that we met look on Artsy and were researching us through the platform, which was really fascinating.”
Not only have these exchanges created new professional relationships for Kudlacek and Ouwens, they have also translated the international exposure that BBA receives online through Artsy into an invaluable on-the-ground experience and opportunity for their artists. Ouwens adds that “the international visibility Artsy gives online also helps us give ourselves visibility through [fostering] collaboration in real life.”
What’s next for BBA?
Always looking to attract new talent, support artists, and grow the gallery, BBA has started hosting two open-call artist competitions a year at the gallery—one artists’ prize and one photography prize decided by a panel of select art-world judges. The reward for winning? Being represented and promoted on Artsy by BBA. Ouwens says this is a draw for many artists “because they want to be on Artsy.”
But before they shift their focus to the photography competition in October, Kudlacek and Ouwens will be preparing their booth for the SWAB art fair this September in Barcelona with works by artists Olivia Lennon and Silvia Binda Heiserova. Kudlacek and Ouwens say they look forward to it and “appreciate Artsy partnering with fairs, which gives participating galleries an extra boost.”