Gallerist Sorella Acosta first developed a deep love and appreciation for Africa on a six-month trip traveling across the Sahara Desert. At the time, Sorella was a partner at Artexis Group, the organizer of Art Brussels. The artists she met in Africa often asked if she could help them exhibit their works in Europe, which inspired Acosta to open OOA Gallery (short for Out of Africa), a gallery focused on contemporary African art, in 2011.
Based south of Barcelona in the seaside resort town of Sitges, OOA Gallery joined Artsy to connect with a global audience. Over the past six years, OOA’s collector base and influence has expanded, now exhibiting at global fairs like Volta, Art X Lagos, Art Madrid, and 1-54 London, and connecting with collectors across the world.
We chatted with Acosta to learn how her gallery successfully increased its visibility and reputation—using Artsy.
Acosta has a keen eye for spotting emerging African talent, and the gallery has over 20 artists on its roster, including Megan Gabrielle Harris, Anjel, Oliver Okolo, and Patrick Tagoe-Turkson. Initially, Acosta discovered talent through her visits to Africa. Now as the gallery’s reputation grows, it receives up to 10 proposals from artists daily.
Artsy is a very important research tool. It allows us to see if artists are represented, if they were presented at art fairs, and the value of the artworks.
Sorella Acosta, OOA Gallery
Online discovery is a key way for the gallery to find fresh talent, such as Nigerian artist Oluwole Omofemi. OOA Gallery was seeking to represent a figurative artist focused on women subjects when Acosta came across one of Omofemi’s works on Instagram and got in contact with him. From this connection, the gallery arranged to present his works alongside figurative artist Rewa in a duo show “Emancipation,” which sold out by the end of the show’s run. The gallery has since presented Omofemi’s works at both 1-54 London and Volta New York.
Omofemi also recently inaugurated OOA’s artist-in-residency program. Acosta cites the residency program as a great opportunity to gain greater insight and knowledge into the “artist’s life, their manner of creativity, and their artistic statement,” which in turn helps the gallery better promote the artist and works.
Promoting the artists’ story
When introducing an artist to an audience, it’s vital that the narrative around the artist is “very close to the reality,” Acosta said. “I don’t want to create a story that’s not the real story.” To achieve this, OOA maintains a close relationship with its artists, staying in weekly contact and collecting images and videos of what artists are working on in their studios. To Acosta, it’s only with this “consistency and quality artists and artworks you see success.”
In order to ensure consistency, OOA Gallery uploads quality imagery and text on Artsy, shares the show across multiple social media platforms, and includes the promotion of every show in the gallery newsletter. The gallery also works with art writers in New York, London, Barcelona, and Senegal to interview the artists and create text that they leverage in different ways. For example, the gallery often translates the interview text into Spanish and Catalan for local audiences, and French and English to attract international collectors.
With over 20 artists on the roster, the gallery is unable to always offer exclusive representation, making strong artist-gallery relationships vital to the success of the gallery. Acosta believes that two or three galleries working together is “not competition but collaboration,” and feels it is the best strategy to grow and develop an artist’s career. This structure not only enables the gallery to present a diverse range of works, but also provides the artist with the opportunity to increase their exposure across different galleries and markets. It gives “artists agency to stay with the gallery because they are satisfied with the work,” she said, fostering a deep and respectful connection between artist and gallery.
Expanding reach online
OOA’s partnership with Artsy has been very beneficial in enabling the gallery to develop an important collector base in the United States, as well as reaching collectors across Europe in the U.K., Switzerland, Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands.
We sell more online than physically, so the collaboration with Artsy is very important for us.
Sorella Acosta, OOA Gallery
Acosta cites utilizing tools like Artsy Conversations, always responding to inquiries within 24 hours, frequently uploading new artworks, and creating viewing rooms with quality photographs as drivers of fruitful interactions. She has witnessed via “analytics that collectors meet us first through Artsy,” she said. “We can actively see our brand awareness with our gallery page views growing.”
One example is a collector who purchased a work from OOA Gallery on Artsy, and kept in contact with the gallery afterward. As Acosta explained, “We had a Dutch couple who first acquired a work through Artsy and then came to attend the preview of Omofemi’s solo show in Barcelona. And now the couple will have an exhibition of their contemporary African art collection in Kunsthal Kade Museum in Amersfoort, the Netherlands, and have used Omofemi’s work as the cover image for the catalogue and communication of the show.” It is very important for Acosta to cultivate these connections “because collectors will follow you and these connections help build a good career for the artists.”
Lately, the gallery has been seeing more and more collectors in Asia. Acosta is excited to see “Asian collectors interested in contemporary African artists. That’s a good sign for the future because it’s a very big market. I think that you will see in some years it’ll be the second market.”
On the horizon
Acosta is always looking for unique collaborations and opportunities to present artist’s works and build their reputation. In the gallery’s upcoming solo show “Inspirational Dreams” with Ivorian artist Mederic Turay, the artist will create a work live at the opening event in the Sitges town hall and also display works in Sabàtic, a five-star hotel of the Marriott Group. And in October, the gallery will present Sudanese artist Miska Mohmmed, in collaboration with the African Film Festival (FCAT) and the Art Week organized by the Catalan Association of Galleries.