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In conversation with Kitty Dinshaw, Subject Matter Art

Kitty is Subject Matter’s Artist Director and Co-Curator along with her business partner and gallery founder, Liezel Strauss.

Kitty represents over 15 artists, and her careful guidance has led to success for many of them. Kitty co-created a programme with the Royal College of Art to educate students on the business side of the art-world, and to raise funds for the College’s Fine Art Bursary Fund through exhibition. Kitty has also spoken to art business students at Sotheby’s Institute and Christie’s Education on the roles and responsibilities of managing artists.

We sat down with Kitty to gain her insights into art buying and issues of representation in arts media.

OA: How does Subject Matter Art make buying art easy for people who might be new to collecting?   

KD: So many ways!  Everything we do, big or small , is so that people can find buying art from us enjoyable and unintimidating. Our mission is to help artists make a living by encouraging new art-buyers.

We only sell photographic art, which is easy to view online. We try to make our website as simple to use as possible, so you can see the art well – although we are constantly tweaking it to make it easier to navigate. We offer free shipping, and free returns – although we’re proud to say no-one has ever wanted to return a piece. We’re always here on email to answer any questions people might have.

We are very happy to arrange a video call with an artist if you’d like to speak to them in person. And we’ll even arrange a handyman for you if you don’t have time to install the piece  yourself.

OA: Is there such a thing as art intimidation? 

KD: Yes, for sure. So many of our clients and friends have no problem spending a good amount of money on furniture or a rug, but when they are in a position to buy art, that’s a different story.

I think art intimidation exists on many levels – cost is a major factor, as is being brave enough to put your taste out there on your wall! Many people think they need to know a lot about art in order to buy art, but you really don’t. All you need is to trust yourself and buy what you love and what moves you.

OA: How has joining Own Art helped your mission?

KD: Own Art has been really important for us as it is the final piece in the puzzle. We were doing all these super-helpful things, yet when it came to paying, clients still had to find the money to make a payment in one large sum.

Spreading your purchase, interest-free across ten months, is an amazing idea and we are thrilled to be a part of Own Art.

OA: What questions should new collectors ask about pieces they are interested in?

KD: The most important question is whether you love it – do not buy a piece for an investment as it is near-impossible to predict whether the art you buy will make you a fortune in years to come. I would always say that it is dangerous to buy a piece solely for investment purposes because the art market is so unregulated and volatile. If you love it, then whether it rises in value or not is immaterial.

The art I have at home on my wall makes me smile every day. If you love the artist’s aesthetic, but are not sure about the particular work the gallery is  showing, ask to be put on their mailing list so you will be the first to hear about new work or a new show.

If you are buying photographic art, make sure you buy a limited edition piece (all the art we sell on Subject Matter is limited edition). That means only a certain number are ever printed and so the value is protected. The smaller the edition size, the better – we sell many of our artworks in editions of 5 or 7, meaning there are only 5 of those images available worldwide.

We also supply authenticity certificates, signed by our artists, with the edition number on them – every gallery should do this, so if you don’t receive  one you must ask.

OA: You’ve helped female artists to gain recognition where they have been underrepresented. Which women should we look out for?

KD: I love all the women we represent and simply couldn’t choose, they are like my family! But I  would say, look out for all of them, they all have interesting stories and create beautiful work. Outside of our Subject Matter artists, I adore the sculptor   Rana Begum, who works mainly in metal. I think she is incredible. The artist and muralist   Lakwena Maciver   – we worked with her on a project over the autumn and her work is brilliant. So strong, so powerful and utterly impeccable; the amount of work she puts into a piece is mind-blowing. I also love the collages of Danielle Krysa (also known as the art-blogger The Jealous Curator) – they are whimsical and utterly charming. We are also obsessed with her blog, I’d highly recommend it!

OA: This month’s Turner Prize 2017 winner Lubaina Himid   is quoted in an article by The Guardian as saying that she was never overlooked by curators or other artists but she was never in the press, perhaps because her work “was too complicated to talk about”. If an artist chooses to deal with experiences of discrimination through their work, how can curators ensure they are seen by the public when media outlets see them as too difficult or confrontational?   

KD: The art media in particular is so conservative – but then so is much of the art establishment. There is so much amazing work coming from all over the place, so many interesting artists, curators and gallerists – but still there is a block. I also think that journalists – and this applies to journalists in most areas, not just art – struggle with anything they can’t pack up neatly into a  particular box. And Lubaina Himid’s work certainly would not make a neat little parcel!

I came fairly recently to Lubaina Himid. Her work both resonates with me and fascinates me, as I know it does for many people. But why was this the first year that the Turner Prize was open to artists over the age of 50? This directly discriminates against women in particular, who often sacrifice their artistic careers to raise children and then only pick up their practice again later in  life. I couldn’t believe that when I read it, it just felt so out of touch to me – especially when Rose Wylie is being celebrated at the Serpentine Gallery, and Geta Bratescu   – aged 92 – had a solo show at the Camden Arts Centre earlier this year.

This is a direct example of why the art world needs to change and become more open to new influences: why the snobbery that is so endemic just needs to disappear. The wider the  art-world grows, with more successful artists and more empowered art-buyers, the better for it!

Kitty’s art collecting tips

  • Make sure your art will fit in the space you have planned for it, including through any doorways you might need to pass through to get to said space
  • Don’t feel bad about asking a gallery to hold a piece for a few days while you consider it further (this gives you time to find a place to put it!)
  • Be careful with what you buy for which space – a super-delicate painting won’t work on the stairs if you are constantly brushing past it, for example
  • Slightly off-topic, but this advice comes from the heart – start off by buying small pieces so you feel more comfortable in making a big purchase when the time comes.

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