PUBLIC is a contemporary art gallery in East London specialising in solo exhibitions of carefully selected artists that combine a strong creative vision, notable technical ability and artistic integrity. The gallery is devoted to fostering meaningful interaction between a dynamic network of artists, collectors and the public.
PUBLIC Gallery was founded in London in May 2018 by Alex Harrison, with Harry Dougall joining as co-director shortly thereafter.
They joined Artsy one month after the gallery’s founding with a goal to establish and grow PUBLIC’s reputation and collector base before committing to unpredictable and high-cost initiatives, such as participating in international art fairs or renting pricey real estate. Now, after just over a year on Artsy, Harrison and Dougall are ready to expand PUBLIC Gallery to a new space and participate in their first international art fair. We chatted with them to learn how they successfully scaled their business and reputation using Artsy.
Tell us about PUBLIC Gallery.
Harry Dougall: The most important part of our gallery’s ethos is to be open to everyone and allow as many people to engage with and see the art as possible—regardless of whether they are a collector or not. We’ve tried to create a welcoming environment where anyone can see, learn about, and be moved by art for free.
Alex Harrison: Whilst we are a commercial gallery at the core, we try to stay true to our name and what it stands for, so we need to be accessible. We couldn’t ever become an appointment-only gallery!
Describe your exhibition program.
HD: Currently, we mount 12 solo exhibitions a year, roughly one every month. We found that a lot of promising early-career artists have lots of opportunities to do group shows, but nowhere near as many [opportunities] for solo exhibitions.
AH: For a young gallery like ours, solo shows have been a great way to create a unique gallery program that attracts exciting artists and collectors alike. Also, we love that it gives us the opportunity to work closely with each artist to create an experience truly tailored to their work.
I’ve known about Artsy for a while because all the galleries, auction houses, and institutions I’ve worked with partner with Artsy. Just before I left Phillips, a specialist said to me, “You’re starting a gallery? Wow. Good luck. One piece of advice—get on Artsy.
Harry Dougall, PUBLIC Gallery
How did you hear about Artsy? What made you bring PUBLIC Gallery onto Artsy?
HD: I’ve known about it for a while because all the galleries, auction houses, and institutions I’ve worked with partner with Artsy. Just before I left Phillips, a specialist said to me, “You’re starting a gallery? Wow. Good luck. One piece of advice—get on Artsy.” Clearly, you have friends in your partners and collaborators! So, I knew from the beginning we needed to partner with Artsy. As soon as I joined the gallery, I told Alex about Artsy, and that I felt it would be integral to our growth and development. Luckily, he was easily persuaded, and we joined Artsy pretty soon after the gallery opened.
AH: We felt Artsy could help grow our artists’ and gallery’s presence and collector base globally without taking big financial risks early on, like going to a lot of art fairs or moving into a high-rent space with more public and collector footfall. Art fairs and premium real estate are fundamental parts of running a commercial gallery—but when your gallery is as young as ours, those investments can be very risky. Being on Artsy allows us to address the challenge of creating a global presence that we want to address without physically doing it at every art fair. We’ve stayed on Artsy because there’s nothing else out there that allows galleries to tell the story of the gallery and the artists in the same way.
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 and time. Our focuses for our digital strategy include Artsy, Instagram, our website, and online press. We put a huge amount of effort into enabling people to view and experience our exhibitions online 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 that first impression to count. Artsy helps firstly with that initial discovery and then with presentation, allowing the viewer to quickly understand what our gallery’s all about.
HD: Artsy allows galleries to tell a story without becoming some retail e-commerce site, like you’re buying a T-shirt. Because you’re not. You’re buying art, and there’s so much that goes into working with artists and maintaining and building careers—you want something that allows you to have that control and narrative. We actually made the decision a while back to redirect traffic from our “Artists” tab on our website to our Artsy page, since we felt it was a seamless way for people to see the story of our gallery and artists, and make a purchase.
AH: We’ve also found that Artsy has excellent SEO, which makes our gallery and artists easily discoverable online. If a collector is interested in a particular artist of ours and is searching for their work online, our Artsy page with their work will usually be in the top results, which is great for generating new inquiries and increasing our gallery’s online presence.
Artsy has excellent SEO, which makes our gallery and artists easily discoverable online. If a collector is interested in a particular artist of ours and is searching for their work online, our Artsy page with their work will usually be in the top results, which is great for generating new inquiries and increasing our gallery’s online presence.
Alex Harrison, PUBLIC Gallery
Do you have tips for galleries trying to strengthen their collector relationships online?
AH: It’s all about quality conversation and engaging on a human-to-human level—even though it’s happening online. Artsy’s Conversations feature allows you to reach out and maintain relationships with collectors across the globe who have never set foot in your gallery.
HD: It’s crucial to not just see an [online] inquiry as the collector, one work, and your gallery—you need to see it as an opportunity to build a relationship and learn about what their interests are. You can always go back to them and present them with exciting new works by other artists you think they might like.
AH: Yes, maintaining relationships with collectors online is just as important. Be sure to reach out to the collectors who have inquired [in the past], and find out about them and their collection. Tell them about what you’re doing and what might be of interest to them.
HD: Above everything else, this ability to engage and build relationships with collectors is why we love Artsy—it gives galleries control and puts the ball in everyone’s court. We are empowered to build relationships, and then take those relationships offline to meet in-person.
Do you have a favorite collector anecdote from Artsy?
HD: It’s particularly rewarding when we can sell work from an early-career artist to a collector on Artsy with a significant collection. Sometimes, they will tell us where a piece of work they’ve just bought is going to hang, and what other important artist’s work it might be next to. It’s a great feeling when they give us that context.
AH: We love it when collectors from Artsy come to meet us in-person. We’ve had a few situations where international collectors who have previously purchased work on Artsy come to the gallery to see the space and current exhibition. It’s a great feeling when people want to take time from their travels and busy schedules to come and see our exhibitions and meet face-to-face.
It’s particularly rewarding when we can sell work from an early-career artist to a collector on Artsy with a significant collection.
Harry Dougall, PUBLIC Gallery
Do you have any favorite tools on Artsy?
HD: The technology of Artsy, in terms of the user interface and ease of use, is really strong, and makes everything really simple—from both a gallery perspective and a collector perspective.
AH: Aside from Artsy Conversations, we particularly love Artsy’s image viewer. If you’re based in Hong Kong and you want to buy a piece now, and we’re in London, it’s crucial that you can see the work in really high resolution and zoom right in to see all the details. Other features like View in Room help give a sense of scale. All together, they help increase the confidence of a collector, which is fundamental to selling art online.
With help from Artsy’s global network of collectors and digital tools, Alex Harrison and Harry Dougall successfully established PUBLIC Gallery’s global presence and reputation. They are now focused on expanding their gallery to a new space, and they will be participating in their first international art fair in 2020. After finishing their first residency with great success, they’re excited to continue their residency program with exciting residencies planned throughout this year and into the next.