Pin It
Credit_ Alexandra Soroka_Elephant 1
Jonny Tanna, Harlesden High StreetPhotography by Alexandra Soroka

Six Young Gallerists Shaping London’s Thriving Art Scene

As London Gallery Weekend kicks off, six emerging gallerists – Jonny Tanna, Milo Astaire, Ema O’Donovan, Archie Squire, Ilenia Rossi, and Sam Will – speak about the highs and lows of running a space in the capital

Lead ImageJonny Tanna, Harlesden High StreetPhotography by Alexandra Soroka

Despite any Brexit-related FOMO, London remains a hotbed of culture. Home to a myriad of art schools like Central Saint Martins and globally respected art institutions like Tate, the city draws in young artists from all over the world, bringing with them a cross-pollination of ideas and cultures. Whether it’s London-founded spaces like the beloved Sadie Coles, or international transplants like Gagosian, galleries have created a home for themselves in the city, recognising the importance of London as a global centre for the arts. Decades ago, these blue-chip galleries were once ‘emerging’ too, giving space to the voices that shaped their generation – but now, a new wave of gallerists is taking the reins. These resourceful risk-takers are building new artistic networks, challenging the status quo, and fighting for greater representation both aesthetic and political. As the city continues to sprawl, galleries are seeking out new spaces in previously overlooked areas, bringing fresh perspectives and connecting with new audiences, all the way from Harlesden to Deptford.

Ahead of London Gallery Weekend – an annual event spotlighting London’s diverse gallery scene – we spoke with a handful of the city’s emerging galleries. There’s Harlesden High Street, with its community-centred BIPOC programming; the Soho charm of The Artist Room (and their buzzy art-world magazine, Plaster, which has pioneered an approachable discourse around contemporary art); the Deptford-based Xxijra Hii, which playfully interrogates contemporary culture; the sleek and curatorially sharp A.Squire, now a cornerstone in the Bloomsbury scene; the multidisciplinary programme of Ilenia’s Shoreditch space, which seeks to connect an international community; and finally, The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ, the London powerhouse creating a vital incubator for emerging galleries. While this list is not exhaustive, it provides an entry point into what’s exciting in the London art scene right now.

Below, six gallerists – Jonny Tanna, Milo Astaire, Ema O’Donovan, Archie Squire, Ilenia Rossi and Sam Will – share their the struggles of being a young gallery, the potential of contemporary art, and leaving their mark on the London scene.

“We started this as a gallery as a response to what I felt in art was racial and political oppression” – Jonny Tanna, Harlesden High Street

Jonny Tanna, Harlesden High Street

“I started the gallery in Harlesden in 2020. We started this as a gallery as a response to what I felt in art was racial and political oppression. There was a lot of ignorance and obliviousness to people of colour and where we’re coming from. [The art world] lumps us all into one suit and uses us as a way to make money, to exploit us and capitalise off our culture. This is the only contemporary art gallery in this neighbourhood. We’re also trying to bear in mind what that comes with, and that’s why we only show people of colour here.

“We now work with less emerging artists throughout the year, and do more non-commercial shows. There’s more flexibility. We’ve re-adopted a project space model even though we’ve done fairs. We recently showed work by Isaac Julien following his show at Tate Britain. I realised that not everybody’s going to be able to afford a £20 ticket, or they wouldn’t think to go anyway. Why not bring it to them? I showed these films and people could come through and see them for free – that’s the idea.

Free Cuzzy by Marcus Jefferson is on show at Harlesden High Street until 30 June 2024. The gallery will host a Caribbean food and music event on Sunday June 2 from 10am – 6pm.

Milo Astaire, The Artist Room / Plaster Magazine

“I was exploring the option of putting on some shows and looking at spaces, some of which were becoming available in Soho, and I found this very cheap third-floor walk-up on Brewer Street which was 300 square-foot above a sushi shop, and I thought: why not put together a show there? The show was called Windows, and drew on the idea of how the window became this portal during lockdown. I was fascinated by how artists had represented this subject.

Plaster started as a passion project for me and Finn [Constantine], my brother, who is a fashion photographer and filmmaker. We were doing these unstructured drops and releases with artists that we would approach, like Kenny Scharf and Harley Weir. A year ago, we sat down together and said there’s a gap for a publication that speaks for and to our generation about contemporary art, – that’s when we thought of launching Plaster as an online publication. Because of Plaster, The Artist Room has been influenced by having much more conversations with our contemporaries, and they are serving each other. They are independent but my point of view is being changed by the fact that we’re having conversations with these great writers, artists and curators. It’s influencing the direction of the programme.”

Tired City by Leonardo Devito is on show at The Artist Room until 29 June 2024. 

Ema O’Donovan, XXijra Hii

“My personal curatorial ethos is inspired by the bleeding edges of subcultures – art as a primal expression and language, science fiction, philosophies and the integration of multi-channel, multi-medium processes. I’m excited that our artists employ unique ways of working with research and material, utilising progressive methodologies to generate engaging artworks, performances and installations. There is always a question being asked, an intervention; it’s never a straight-up show.

“Independent spaces and curators are able to be agile in finding new artists and cultures which ought to be surfaced; be that via independent funds, less hierarchy, less bureaucracy and being able to maintain personal connection and liaison. There is freedom and immediacy in how young galleries can bring awareness to the public and institutions alike in an ever-evolving and fast-paced era of consumption.

“In terms of a London scene, I think the trend for a geographic cluster of galleries who are supporting each other across the capital is growing. It’s a positive collective effort which is attractive to clients, but also artists, curators and institutions alike. We have collaborated with some great neighbouring galleries and projects such as Collective Ending HQ, Studio/Chapple and Sid Motion. Collaborative representation is  making its mark, giving artists more freedom to exhibit and compounding the efforts of multiple galleries building that narrative.”

Unhomely by David Micheaud is on show at XXijra Hii until 22 June 2024.

“It’s more about the dialogue. That’s what I love about this space, people walk in and they feel like they can have a conversation with me because I’m sat right there” – Archie Squire, a.Squire

Archie Squire, a.Squire

“I founded a.Squire in February 2023 – I did one show in this apartment in Shoreditch and it took me ages to find the right space. I knew I wanted to be in Bloomsbury because it’s super central but the rent is significantly less than in areas like Soho.

“In all the shows I’ve made so far, it feels like the artists are testing the notion of the medium that they’re working in. For example, with Nina Porter’s photographs, many people came into the show and wondered why I kept referring to cameras, since Nina’s pinhole cameras don’t register at all as these photographic devices. I’m interested in artists who are reworking the medium somehow, and saying something about the times that we live in.

“It’s more about the dialogue. That’s what I love about this space, people walk in and they feel like they can have a conversation with me because I’m sat right there. And I always invite a conversation with people, because that’s so much more interesting than sitting there and doing my work and someone coming in silently and walking out silently. Some of the most interesting observations from the shows have been from just talking to people.

Pluto by Ryan Huggins is on show at a.Squire from 1 June – 13 July 2024. 

Ilenia Rossi, Ilenia

“A lot of the shows that we do at the gallery are the first presentations of these artists’ works in the UK. They’ve been around, showing in institutions and other galleries within their respective communities, and I found it surprising that they hadn’t been shown in London before. Violet [Dennison’s] show was her first solo show in the UK, as was Emil Michael Klein’s, which was the first show I did at the gallery in October 2023.

“For me, it’s important to bring these artists to London to introduce them to a new public, to a new set of curators, collectors and artists both younger and older that they can collaborate with in the future. The best thing about having a young gallery is to really grow and nurture these artists’ careers over time – that’s the long-term view for our gallery.”

I Just Want a Little Credit! by Violet Dennison is on show at Ilenia until 6 July 2024.

“The idea to use our platform to support the local art community was something that felt quite valuable, and we were in a position to do that” – Sam Will, The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ

Sam Will, The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ

“As a gallery, we have London in our DNA. We’ve got three spaces in London and nowhere else, but we also have a very broad international reach. Coming out of lockdown, we had a few conversations internally about how, for emerging galleries stepping out into the world, central London might feel like a world away. This is for Covid-related reasons, but also more general access to affordable space and funding; the landscape was tough at the time, but it’s even more tough now. The idea to use our platform to support the local art community was something that felt quite valuable, and we were in a position to do that.

“One thing that is very important for the programme is that I don’t have a curatorial say in what is shown. We approach emerging galleries that I think are doing something exciting, and I want to support them gallery to gallery, rather than engaging or endorsing the artists themselves.

“We’ve got some really exciting galleries we’re hosting in 2024. We will be opening on the Friday of London Gallery Weekend with 243 Luz which is an interesting pivot. We focus a lot on London, so it felt important to look outside the traditional geographies of the art world. To look outside of the city, and to Margate, felt like the right step to take.”

Downtown, featuring the work of artists Calla Henkel & Max Pitegoff and I.W. Payne from the Margate based gallery 243 Luz, is on show at The Shop at Sadie Coles HQ until 22 June 2024. 

London Gallery Weekend runs from 31 May – 2 June 2024.