- Passage Arts seeks to showcase underrepresented artists and cultivate next-gen art collectors.
- Cofounder Reilly Clark says young people feel the art market is too exclusive and unwelcoming.
- The gallery opened last summer and has signed five artists from underrepresented communities.
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In the art world, so often, there is one question that starts the game: Do you have the means, or perhaps the desire, to buy what some gallery in Chelsea has to offer? Do you have a market and if so, whom? Actually, scratch that: Who are you?
Jonathan Day Nālamakūikapō Ahsing, 22, knows what that feels like. He’s a Kanaka Maoli storyteller and up-and-coming artist based in Hawaii.
“I’ve definitely had negative experiences in the art market — People turning me away or not wanting to work with me because of the nature of my work,” Ahsing said, adding that he’s been around people who weren’t allowed to enter certain galleries based on the color of their skin or because they were from certain economic backgrounds.
“If a gallery is only concerned with the numeric value of an art piece and not concerned with the movement of empowering the community, it doesn’t feel like they really, truly care about the message they are trying to convey,” he said.
A few years ago, Ahsing was hosting an exhibition of his work when he struck up a conversation with the co-founder of Passage Arts gallery Alema Fitisemanu, 24, and his co-founders Reilly Clark, 24, and Reily Haag, 23.
Their conversation spanned inequity, racism, the mis- and underrepresentation of indigenous voices, and the unequal power dynamic between galleries, artists, and collectors.
Both Clark and Haag are white, while Fitisemanu is of Pacific Islander descent. Clark recognized his privilege as a white man but said young people in general — both artists and collectors — want inclusivity. They don’t want to leave galleries feeling as if they don’t belong. And everyone wants, no matter what their background, to be given a fair chance at an opportunity to do what they love, he said.
Ahsing felt relief at their transparency. Fitisemanu, Clark, and Haag opened Passage Arts last summer to help spotlight underrepresented artists such as himself, and they are currently working with five others.
“Unless you are one of the top 10 art dealers in the world, the system isn’t working for you,” Passage Arts COO Clark, told Insider. “We want to be the people that actually go out and meet new artists. To cultivate new collectors, on their own terms, their own turf, and their own time.”
A new generation taking exclusivity out of the art world with pop-ups and online galleries.
Passage Arts isn’t the only next-gen gallery that feels the art market has become too exclusive.
In New York, Destinee Ross-Sutton, 25, opened the Ross-Sutton gallery earlier this year, seeking to highlight artists from the African diaspora. It plans to host international pop-ups and make the gallery available online for “all to access.”
And over in France, Alexis de Bernede, 22, and Marius Jacob-Gismondi, 23, opened Darmo Art gallery three years ago to help give exposure to young artists struggling to find representation.