Space Gallery director Natalie Clifford brings the island’s sophistication and luxury to its new contemporary art space located in the heart of Soho.
FROM ST BARTH TO SOHO, Space Gallery owner Natalie Clifford is changing the game of the typical uptight and sterile atmosphere of your average gallery. After opening its new location in New York last November, the London-born gallerist creates a space for conversation, engagement, and accessibility to art, offering a very personal approach to her clients and growing their collections. In 2011, Clifford founded Space Gallery’s flagship location on the French-speaking Caribbean island of St Barth, with the aim of making a cultural contribution to the island and acting as a window onto the global art scene for residents and visitors, regularly exhibiting in Miami and Monaco. As a female business owner, Clifford has built a strong exhibition program of leading artists, curating shows year round as well as participating in various art fairs internationally including the Venice Biennale, pop-up galleries and museum exhibitions including at the BOCA Museum of Art.
With its white Greco-Roman columns flanking the street entrance, Space Gallery’s newly opened location conveys an easy grace on the cobblestone streets of the Soho neighborhood. Its interior includes high ceilings, an upper level lounge with a glass balcony overlooking the space below, and a King Charles pup named George taking afternoon naps on the sofa.
In the gallery’s archives are a wide range of contemporary works from the primary market —paintings and photography from the likes of established and emerging international artists — like the cheeky beach nudes of Jean-Philippe Piter, the sequined neo-pop surrealist art of Philip Colbert, and the large scale wildlife images of Arno Elias.
We visit Space Gallery to sit down with the woman behind the operation and discuss what’s it’s like to run a gallery between tropical paradise and a hustling, bustling city.
How did you start your gallery in St Barth?
St Barths is a small place but it’s a very international place, so it’s almost a very natural place to have a gallery. You have people from all over the world — a very interesting selection of people coming to visit — people who are cultured, who appreciate art, who collect art. So I really wanted to make the point of creating a gallery that wasn’t a destination gallery that showed touristy art or local art in the sense that it’s not good quality, I really wanted to use the gallery to be a window onto the global art world and show things that our clientele might have seen in London, Paris, or New York, and also for the residents of the island to bring in a cultural dimension to the island that they didn’t have previously. We started that way in 2011 and have really grown from there.
What is it like to work in St Barth?
Of course you have this leisure/vacation world going on around you: beautiful beaches, beautiful restaurants, beautiful weather, but it’s a wonderful island with a great infrastructure with hardworking, honest people. It’s been a great experience working there. The smallness of the island, the community and security of living in this safe place is very special. The French system is very ordered and at times bureaucratic so that was something to adjust to, but I realize it was good preparation for the particular rules and regulations of New York City, that’s for sure!
What made you move to New York City?
We’ve played with the idea of Miami, we’ve played with the idea of Monaco — we’ve done a lot of projects in Monaco — but New York, really, I think is unrivaled in its position as a leading art city, so it was the ultimate choice for us, really. Terrifying but exciting. Of course, in a city like New York it takes a ton of work and you have a ton of competition, but I think that breeds good people, good work ethic, and momentum for business here. So New York has been a change — but it’s an interesting change because we’re opened up to so many opportunities and possibilities of how we can grow the gallery and the program, things we can do that maybe we haven’t been able to do by geographical limitation in St Barth. So I’m really excited to see how we can grow from here.
What is a typical day as a gallery director?
No day is really the same. But it will involve talking with my artists, checking in with them if we’re working on a show, preparing literature for the show, outreach, press. Talking with our clients, of course we’re in an active open sales space too so there are people coming in and out. And of course we always have administrative tasks to do, which is not so exciting, but just keeping an overview of the whole situation — here and there as well is important.
What types of artwork inspire you?
I come from a background of predominantly showing painting, but I think that any contemporary collection contains a mix of different mediums. Photography is becoming more and more valid as an art form for people to collect, and I think people are seeing that now. I love photography and so we’ve introduced a photography-heavy program in the last couple of years. I think it’s very important to have a mixture of different mediums because that’s basically the essence of a contemporary collection. You might pair a painting next to a sculpture next to mixed media work or a photograph — and I think they play well against each other and work well to really develop a complete collection. So in our gallery space what I like is to really play with that too and show pieces by different artists and different mediums and really mix things up to complement one another.
“Art is incredibly personal. I think above all art evokes emotion, whatever that emotion might be.” —Natalie Clifford
What are some of the differences between your locations in St Barth and Soho?
We have a lot of the same clientele in both places, however, I think the locations are very different but regardless of which of our galleries people come into, we want them to feel comfortable, welcomed and to engage with the art. Our mission in St Barths was to create a space that is welcoming and professional but informal — people are in a different state of mind when on vacation, we are also positioned in a beautiful little square in the heart of town with French shutters on the windows and our neighbors are Cartier and Hermes. It is very charming and quintessentially French; that in itself creates a mood. Here in New York, of course, we’re inspired by the energy — it’s such a fantastic city that has such a great dynamic to work in. We want to try things that are more experimental that we haven’t done down in St Barths and we really want to play with the space here, introduce some new artists that we are working with and do some different projects. We hope we have created a space in the city which keeps our laid back and informal vibe with a European edge and look forward to sharing our expertise and our great line-up of leading artists with clients in New York City.
How do you balance both locations?
I’m very lucky to have an amazing team — we have a great team in St Barth and we have a great team in New York. It is a balance; it’s a new situation having two permanent spaces full-time but it’s an exciting challenge. We have our programs in St Barth and New York, but essentially, we are very well organized, and I think you have to be in order to make things work and run smoothly in any business.
What does art mean to you?
Art is incredibly personal. I think above all art evokes emotion, whatever that emotion might be. It makes us feel. Art is something I’ve always had a passion for – and my family is quite creative — my sister’s an actress, my mother always enjoyed painting although never professionally. Family outings would be to museums, or exhibitions, or the ballet, things like that. I think art is intrinsic to our lives even subconsciously. Images are around us and talking to us all the time.
Who are the artists in your gallery?
Right now we have a group exhibition to present a flavor of who we carry and our identity as a gallery. We have the really fun works of Philip Colbert who is a star on the rise. We have some of his pieces from his embroidered series which are sequins and beading hand-stitched on canvas. And they’re a lot of fun, they’re very different, something unexpected. You don’t expect the texture or the technique.
Mixed in with that, we have some black and white photography by a French artist who shows a fun twist on the classic nude, very playful, very engaging between the muse and the photographer. They are clever pieces that make you smile and make you feel good.
Then we have the incredible paintings of Hunt Slonem, of course, whose work is just beautiful. We have so many of his signature motifs: the bunnies, the butterflies, and the birds. Those are really stand-out pieces.
We have some very beautiful photography by Gabriella-Imperatori Penn, and then some very innovative photography by the photographer behind me, Hugh Arnold. I like to day he’s almost painting with his photography because essentially he’s creating these huge collages out of thousands of images to create these epic scenes that he wants to tell a story with.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
To always be open to everything. You can have a plan but things can always come along and change that. It’s always good to be flexible and roll with it!
What should we expect in 2019?
In 2019, we’ve done some exciting things already and we have more exciting things to come. We are passionate about the artists we represent and show – and are looking forward to presenting lots of new works through this year. I think we’re going to play around a bit with this space. We have some great solo shows starting with the beautiful hand painted works of Arno Elias and then we have a 50 year retrospective of Marco Glaviano coming to New York, which is really exciting. We’re also playing with some experimental ideas this summer to make art more of an interactive process with the audience and the buyer rather than just it being the final result that you see on the wall – followed by some very interesting shows by artists to watch this fall.