Public Gallery is a contemporary art gallery in East London with a diverse international program focused on emerging artists. The gallery is devoted to fostering cross-cultural dialogue between artists, collectors, and the public.
Public Gallery was founded in London in May 2018 by Harry Dougall and Alex Harrison. The gallery joined Artsy one month after opening, with the founders’ goal to grow its reputation and collector base—and before they committed to high-cost initiatives, such as participating in international art fairs and renting pricey real estate.
Four years on, Dougall and Harrison have expanded Public Gallery to a three-story space in the London neighborhood of Whitechapel, and they’re now in the early stages of planning their second space. We chatted with them to learn how they successfully scaled their business—and its reputation—using Artsy.
Could you tell us a bit about Public Gallery?
Harry Dougall: Since we opened in 2018 in a small East London space, the gallery has been dedicated to supporting emerging artists in the U.K. and abroad. We are committed to creating a program that fosters cross-cultural dialogue by integrating interdisciplinary forms of art from a diverse range of artists.
Alex Harrison: As our name suggests, a key part of the gallery’s ethos has been to cultivate an accessible environment—both in person and online—in which anyone can see, learn about, and be moved by art.
Could you describe your exhibition program?
HD: Our program has evolved with our physical gallery spaces. In 2020, we expanded to our current three-floor gallery space in a brutalist building in London and started representing artists.
The three distinct floors offer a unique architecture, and provide curatorial flexibility for ambitious solo or group exhibitions spanning the whole space. This also allows us to create a dialogue between multiple concurrent exhibitions.
AH: We often collaborate with curators on thematic exhibitions that juxtapose emerging and established artists, helping to spark new conversations. Some of the artists we’ve exhibited include Huma Bhabha, Shezad Dawood, and Tai Shani.
HD: We also organize off-site exhibitions in atypical spaces, in parallel to our gallery activities. Most recently, we did a major solo exhibition with Cathrin Hoffmann, presenting the artist’s works in a vast former Tate & Lyle sugar factory in London’s industrial docklands.
Moving forward, we have plans to initiate similar off-site projects, both domestically and internationally.
We knew Artsy could help grow our presence and collector base globally without taking too many big financial risks early on.
Alex Harrison, Public Gallery
You work with a lot of early-career artists. Can you tell us how you approach or discover emerging artists you want to work with?
AH: We just keep our ears to the ground. This involves not only paying attention to what is happening locally in London and the U.K. at large, but of course internationally as well.
The discovery and accessibility that you find online—social media, online exhibitions, communication itself—has transformed the art industry on so many levels. The online art world allows us to engage with so many new artists globally in a way that wasn’t possible several years ago.
HD: Conversations with artists we already know and admire can also lead to some exciting discoveries. Some of the group shows that artists have curated for us—such as Harminder Judge, Saelia Aparicio, and most recently Rose Nestler—have been conceived in this way.
How did you hear about Artsy? What made you want to bring Public Gallery onto Artsy’s marketplace?
HD: I’d known about Artsy for a few years prior to opening Public Gallery, as I was working at other galleries and institutions that partnered with Artsy.
Artsy remains the market leader in this space, and it was then, too. Being aware of the transformation that digital art sales were having even before the pandemic, we were confident Artsy would be a key tool for Public Gallery from the start.
AH: Yeah, we knew Artsy could help grow our presence and collector base globally without taking too many big financial risks early on.
How does Artsy contribute to your digital strategy?
AH: As [directors of] a young gallery, we have to be very deliberate about where we put our energy, money, and time. Our digital strategy is currently focused on our website, social media presence, and Artsy, which together form key tools for reaching and engaging new audiences.
We put a huge amount of effort into our online documentation, letting people view and experience our exhibitions in as much detail and clarity as possible. You can’t forget that the vast majority of people will come across our gallery online first, so we need the first impression to count—and Artsy helps us with that.
HD: The pandemic lockdowns also gave people more time: not only to discover artists and works online, but also to communicate more in-depth with us, and with more regularity. So as these relationships grew, so did our thinking around the ways online tools, like viewing rooms, could help us offer deeper insight into our physical exhibitions and the artists we work with.
AH: We’ve also found that Artsy has excellent SEO, making our gallery and artists more easily discoverable online.
If a collector is interested in an artist we work with and searches for them online, the artist’s Artsy page, with works available from our gallery, will usually be in the top results. That’s great for generating new inquiries and boosting our online presence.
We’ve also found that Artsy has excellent SEO, making our gallery and artists more easily discoverable online. If a collector is interested in an artist we work with and searches for them online, the artist’s Artsy page, with works available from our gallery, will usually be in the top results. That’s great for generating new inquiries and boosting our online presence.
Alex Harrison, PUBLIC Gallery
Do you have tips for galleries trying to strengthen their collector relationships online?
HD: Whether online or offline, it’s important for us to get to know a collector—not only so we can be confident about where a work is going, but also so we can form a longer-term relationship with the collector. To that end, lots of messaging, calls, and virtual exhibition tours take place.
AH: Yes, it’s crucial to not just see an inquiry as purely transactional. It’s an opportunity to create a conversation with someone and learn about their collecting interests, which will better guide future conversations and ensure you’re giving them an experience tailored to their tastes.
Do you have any favorite tools on Artsy?
AH: Aside from Artsy Conversations [which we use to communicate with collectors], we really like Artsy’s image viewer. For digital sales, it’s crucial that you can see the work in really high resolution and zoom right in to see all the details. Other tools like the “view in room” feature on artworks can give a sense of scale. Altogether, Artsy’s tools can help increase the confidence of collectors, which is fundamental to selling art online.
HD: Particularly over the past couple of years, Artsy Viewing Rooms have been useful for us. We use them to really unpack the context of our physical exhibitions, and build on stories and conversations relating to specific works or an artist’s practice.
Public Gallery has an impressive Instagram presence, with nearly 40,000 followers. How do you build your social media audience?
HD: We see social media, particularly Instagram, as a way to offer a curated insight into both our activity and that of the artists we work with. It allows for a more personal tone than a website or e-commerce platform, which is what I think people want from social media: a feeling of connection to who they’re following.
AH: We don’t have a dedicated social media manager or use any specific techniques. We just think about how to create an engaging snapshot of what we’re doing—primarily through images and video—and build on the story of an artist and their practice.
With help from Artsy’s digital tools and global network of collectors, the directors of Public Gallery, Harry Dougall and Alex Harrison, have successfully established their gallery’s online presence and expanded its reputation around the world.
Today, Dougall and Harrison continue to focus on developing Public Gallery’s program. Soon they’ll head to Marseille, France, for the Art-O-Rama fair, where the gallery will present new paintings by Chinese-born artist Li Hei Di alongside a site-specific sculptural installation by German Canadian artist Marlon Kroll.