The art world never seems to get enough of the emerging, but things can get tough for artists who reach seniority without having made it to the top. Some may have shown their work in prestigious museums, but as the decades go by, they progressively fall into oblivion, replaced by hungrier, younger souls. Yet these mature artists could well represent a rich — and virtually untapped — market.
This is what 27-year-old Megan Piper believes, and she inaugurated her Piper Gallery in London Fitzrovia last week. As so often, the venture started with a chance encounter. Piper met artist Vaughan Grylls through her primary school. She was later struck by a 2010 re-hang of his 1970 graduation show at Slade School of Fine Art and an exhibition at Birmingham's Ikon Gallery surveying the institution's programme in the 1970s — in which a piece by Grylls was included.
"The idea of sustained practice and of looking at a lifetime portfolio became increasingly interesting for me," Piper told ARTINFO UK. "[These shows] really got me thinking about the contemporary art market, and I thought that there's got to be a place for these artists." An introduction to entrepreneur Andrew Morris, who became Piper's business partner in 2011, allowed Piper Gallery to come into being.
Does Piper feel that the art market is ageist? "To a degree, yes," answered the fledgling dealer. "[But] art transcends age, and I selected artists I feel have a contemporary relevance, and are continuing to produce interesting, dynamic work that has nothing to do with age."
The 1,300 square foot space on Newman Street showcases historical and contemporary artworks, replacing the artists' more recent pieces in the broader context of their long careers. This underlying concept is at the core of the inaugural exhibition "Then and Now," which gathers older works and new commissions by Grylls and Edward Allington.
The gallery currently represents 10 artists: Allington, Grylls, Tess Jaray, Paul Joyce, Martin McGinn, Paul de Monchaux, Desmond Rayner, Neil Stokoe, Wendy Taylor, and Francis West. All have been practicing artists for forty years or more. "I'm not saying in a very black and white way that artists have to be over the age of 60, it's not as clean cut as that," Piper is quick to point out. "It's more about capturing the essence of an idea within that time frame."
"There's certainly an interesting generational relationship between us," she continued. "It's always like looking with fresh eyes. And I'm working with people who have more experience in the art market than myself, which makes it very interesting."
"Then and Now, Edward Allington and Vaughan Grylls," June 29 – August 11, 2012, Piper Gallery, London