Rethinking the Traditional Gallery Model for a New Generation

No stranger to pushing boundaries and doing things differently, the London-based, international art dealer and advisor Taymour Grahne explains how he plans to avoid being part of a post-Covid art scene overload 

Taymour Grahne

The end of the Covid-19 pandemic understandably brought great celebration, heralding the relaunch of so many things dear to us, including much-missed events on the art scene. 

However, as the initial euphoria died down and the dust settled, market corrections inevitably took place across the sectors, alongside significant strategy revisions and more than a little soul-searching from business leaders.

It was against this backdrop and having listened to the opinions of colleagues, clients and friends that the London-based, international art dealer and advisor Taymour Grahne began mulling a different approach as he looked ahead to the 2023/24 season.

“I spend a lot of time chatting to collectors and artists, and one comment I heard time and again was that the end of the pandemic had led to an unsustainable expansion across the industry, from new galleries opening in over-saturated hubs to the huge number of shows taking place,” Grahne said. “They felt it was too much for audiences and I agreed. I realised that I didn’t want to be part of that overload.”

Instead, Grahne has decided, from September, to take what he describes as the opposite route, recalibrating and reducing his exhibition venues from three to one and adopting a shift in stance with his projects. “The focus will be on hyper-curated, minimal programmes of works by standout artists in off-site spaces and online,” he said. “It’s a very exciting transition and I’m really looking forward to it.” 

Grahne is certainly no stranger to pushing boundaries and doing things differently. When opening his international contemporary art gallery in New York City’s Tribeca neighbourhood in 2013, he made it a point to seek out artists with whom he saw the potential to build long-term relationships and work with them in an evolutionary, organic way, showing their work, as well, in off-site displays and alternative spaces. 

Nerida by Nada Elkalaawy

Today, he maintains the same philosophy, while recognising that new audiences are also looking for something different from the art industry. “The traditional gallery model we inherited from the 1950s, with a typical roster of eight artists is too stale and static for today’s market,” he said. “It’s important to challenge the status quo and ask what the future model could look like. We already know that the new generation of art enthusiasts have different criteria - they want transparency, friendliness and accessibility, for example, rather than an elitist white cube.” 

Grahne’s approach also includes casting his net far and wide when searching for rising talent, due, undoubtedly, in part to his combined Finnish and Lebanese heritage. Certainly, he has given emerging artists from the MENA region a platform, including the Egyptian-born, London-based artist Nada Elkalaawy, whose figurative paintings featured in one of three solo shows curated by Grahne in May, titled Cabinet of Curiosities. In the show, which marked Elkalaawy’s first UK solo exhibition, the artist uses painting to visualise an intriguing dialogue between dolls, statues and women, with her subjects reminiscent of those found in Flemish Baroque portraits.

Other regional artists featured by Grahne include the Iranian-American painter Nicky Nodjoumi, known for exploring the relationship between power and violence in his work, and Nadia Ayari, of combined Tunisian-American heritage, whose distinctive paintings combine abstraction and narration to explore key issues, such as the impact of socio-political conflicts on the individual.

While he is keen to champion artists from the Middle East, Grahne is firmly against compartmentalising art on a regional basis, however. “I don’t believe in pigeonholing or getting caught up in regionality or nationality,” he explained. “The art has to captivate me visually and intellectually – context isn’t enough on its own – there has to be a concept, a theme or a great idea, combined with outstanding technique.” 

OrbsIV by Nadia Ayari

That said, he agrees that regional artists and the diaspora have an infinite source of subject matter to draw on in their work. “Lebanon, especially, is such a complex cultural melting pot, with an incredibly deep, rich heritage,” he said. “Importantly, it has a chaotic, contested history, marked by different interpretations, and I think that this lack of a national narrative feeds into the work of many artists who are producing some brilliant art, from political pieces to abstraction.”

Alongside the partnerships he has forged with exciting contemporary artists, Grahne also devotes time to supporting collectors through the art advisory wing of his business. Guiding collectors who are in the early stages of their journey - as well as established collectors - is something he finds particularly rewarding. “It’s incredibly exciting to work closely with collectors that are just starting out and helping them establish collections that tell a story – their own story, in fact,” he explained. 

Asked about the advice he gives collectors, Grahne’s initial answer is straightforward. “I always say buy what you love, but buy smart,” he said. “But while I don’t believe in buying solely for investment, I do stress the importance of building value in a collection over time and this is something I encourage. I feel a responsibility to help people select works by artists of their choice, but that are likely to have long-term value. It’s a challenge, but it can definitely be achieved with thought and care.”

Right now, Grahne is focusing on various initiatives, including the seasonal aspects of the art scene, such as the Summer Degree shows, at which graduates will be introducing their work to wider audiences, and the biennials under way. “I’m also busy with the opening of my three final shows for the season which are running concurrently until mid-July, so these are definitely going to be a crazy but fun few weeks,” he said.

Current exhibitions:

Jesse Morsberger

Paradigm Shift, 

Taymour Grahne Projects, Notting Hill

Until July 19, 2023

Christina Lucia Giuffrida 

Dark Pastoral

Taymour Grahne Projects, The Artist Room

Until July 19, 2023

Demetrius Wilson 

Demetrius Wilson, Curated by Bill Powers

Taymour Grahne Projects, Holland Park

Until July 19, 2023

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