By Melissa Hekkers
It’s with an analytical mind that Rebecca Tornaritis reveals the journey of Nicosia’s The Collection Gallery over the past three years.
The gallery opened its sister venue in Limassol on Friday, August 25, the only private gallery in Cyprus to take that leap.
Owner and founder of The Collection Gallery, Tornaritis began to take baby steps in the local art world when the country was very much in financial crisis. As she says, “art encounters tough times during recession time. I can’t say that the art scene in Cyprus is easy”.
Yet Tornaritis’ outlook is broad. Not only does she estimate that, in order to be sustainable, galleries need to reinvent themselves, be flexible and be quick to restructure if needed and find alternative ways to generate profit, it’s also the comparison to the global trends of the art world that rings sombrely throughout the interview.
“We see big galleries close down or merge, we see the absorption of smaller galleries, we see the disappearance of small players… but all these processes are, in fact, a consolidation of the art market,” she points out.
“I believe that the process of cleaning and filtering the art market is healthy. I don’t agree with the manipulation of the market by big players; galleries are not museums and, despite the fact that they often do work as museums and have important educational roles in society, galleries have no financial support from public funds,” she adds.
“Each gallery should find the formula that works for its market. I’m a risk taker and I’m not afraid of challenges, but I keep in mind that 1+1 equals 2 and not -2. In any case, heroes are made in turbulent times….if it’s easy, anybody can do it.”
To date, the gallery has brought to the fore a number of group and solo exhibitions by local and international artists, a programme that will continue to thrive and somewhat expand thanks to the new premises on the Limassol seafront.
“We are still considered ‘a young gallery’ by the more ‘rigid’ buyers and artists, and this fact doesn’t disarm me. We are working hard to fix our programmes and sign with emerging artists, as well as established ones, as any respectful international gallery would do – with a forecast of exhibitions for the next two years, minimum.
“There are galleries abroad that have their programme full for half a decade, not to mention ‘blue chip’ galleries that simply wouldn’t look at artists’ portfolios. They invest so much in a select few that they are not interested ‘to create’ a new big name. To create the ‘quota’ of an artist is a long, costly process and galleries are undertaking this risk under contracts.
“I recently saw a huge exhibition of Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie in New York that is considered top of the world with his art, and he truly deserves it, yet nothing on show was for sale. There were hundreds of art lovers and buyers, but the gallery simply invested in the future of the artist’s pricing…I also went to gallery openings in the Middle East, by invitation only. Again, these galleries chose to look for the niche that can afford. Personally, I don’t agree with this marketing, because art should be seen by everyone,” says Tornaritis.
Going back to the island’s demographic and geographic limitations, The Collection Gallery it is now in a phase of growth, both in regard to its reputation and as a serious player in the Cyprus market.
“We are looking to sign local artists to sell their works in our galleries, through partner galleries abroad and through international art fairs we will participate in,” she explains.
“We curated an amazing stand for NADA Miami – a hugely important art fair – with two artists; one Cypriot and one Greek. Unfortunately, we were not admitted this year. We are applying for a few more art fairs; we want to take part in two to three art fairs a year,” adds Tornaritis.
Over the years, The Collection Gallery has also been very active in local art auctions; a secondary market for all galleries as Tornaritis puts it.
“(Auctions) basically sell masters and highly collectible artists who are no longer alive or active, but whose works are rarely to be found. There are shows where you simply can’t buy any artwork at the opening. Everything is sold on preview. I have seen works that had requests and over-bids on the opening night, a few times more than what they were priced at, in six digits, and buyers couldn’t buy any of it.
“Here appears the presence of the secondary market: for highly-collectible artists you meet buyers and sellers in the re-sale process of an art work that was once sold in a gallery and was part of a show. This is a component of any gallery in the world,” she explains.
“What is different in Cyprus is the fact that prices of local masters and well-established artists are downgraded by some players who are selling art as a ‘product’ only. Collectors shouldn’t be happy with what’s happening, because, yes, you can purchase cheaper now, but what will happen with the existing art works artists hold in their portfolio? Their value will diminish in long run.”
To this end, The Collection Gallery in Nicosia hosts a permanent exhibition with curated works that are permanently updated. As for the Limassol branch, it will function purely as an exhibtion/events space, against the backdrop of “the vibrant and diverse city of Limassol”, as Tornaritis puts it.
“The artists that will sign with us will have the opportunity to have their work shown in both galleries, besides our online platform. We are preparing a few big shows and we have on our agenda to start cooperation with local and international artists whose work, we believe, will speak to viewers in the short term, will stand the test of time in the long run and will show a great investment.”
Parallel to the Limassol opening, The Collection Gallery has also expanded its premises with a framing workshop, something which abides with Tornaritis’ belief that galleries need to reinvent and offer additional services that contribute to the gallery’s revenue.
“When we took the decision to offer framing services, we wanted to offer differentiated solutions. It started with our need for framing for the gallery itself, as well as for customers that purchased our art work,” reveals Tornaritis.
Reflecting on the local art world, it’s clear Tornaritis has a passion for the effort of local Cypriot artists. Yet the greatness derived from local creatives, as she says, has to be related to the global art world.
“When you visit big art hubs, you see so much creativity and, by seeing and reading art over and over again, your eyes eventually learn to immediately spot the uniqueness and power of the art and artists that will be atemporal – you learn the unwritten rules of the art world, too.
“I salute the upcoming Larnaca biennale. I’m so happy for this city, which I believe is the next city that will show tremendous development. Paphos, through being the European Capital of Culture this year has practically been placed on the map. Yet artists
need support, they need financing in order to be present at big fairs and prominent art cities where curators and collectors will see their art. When curators start ‘queuing’ to buy works from an artist for museums, at that point you know that the artist has a prolific future.
“I see that artists in Cyprus have no support from museums, ministries or other organisations. Artists, in order to evolve, need support to travel extensively. They need to see what is going on in the real art scene and meet the market makers. Artists need to be honest with their partners, they need a solid partnership with a gallery that can help them succeed internationally and locally, it’s a much better way than doing it alone,” she says.