A new concept of contemporary gallery has arrived in Birmingham: the art apartment. Foregoing traditional gallery exhibitions, the city’s artists and collectors are now showcasing their artwork in domestic interiors. Away from the intimidating white cube space, these intimate locations allow for more personal interactions between artist, dealer, collector and artworks.
I was introduced to the concept just this week by Mau, a Salvadoran artist, and Alex, an art collector and barrister. I had come across their newly formed Flat 8 on Instagram – the only place they are promoting it. After a few DMs, we had arranged a time for me to view the space and artwork. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.
I was welcomed, very warmly, into the bright, light-filled Flat 8 by Mau. He offered me tea and homemade banana bread (always a winner), and explained the concept of their apartment as a place to experience art in a more informal way than in a gallery.
As he talked I couldn’t help but look around: they had transformed their living room, bedrooms and hallway into a beautifully curated art gallery.
Naturally, Mau gave in to my inquisitive eye and showed me his own photographs hanging on the hallway wall.
His series of small, enchanting images – ‘Intimate Spaces’ – explore Birmingham and the surrounding Midlands region. Untouched by Photoshop, they are considered, contemplative reflections of landscapes. With their deep green tones, and golden light, they echo Constable’s celebration of the countryside. They also recall the Pre-Raphaelite painters’ sharply detailed realism, condensed with colour.
Opposite, Alex has displayed works from his contemporary art collection. One of the highlights is an oil painting by BP Portrait Award-exhibited artist Tristan Piggot. Characteristic of his quiet scenes of contemporary life, ‘Big Softie’ shows spaghetti cooking, as the sitter awaits against a bright yellow background.
In the living room are architectural photographs taken by Mau during travels around South America. Standing out are shots of surreal reflections on Birmingham’s buildings, as well as a new series of paper cut drawings.
An intimate experience
As I spend time with Mau, and then Alex who joins us later, the Room 101 art space idea starts to make sense to me.
I used to work for several years in a commercial gallery. I would visit collectors’ homes which were carefully curated exhibitions of the artworks they had bought. They became part of their life, their identity. Something private, often away from their very public persona.
It’s the same here. My favourite moment is when Mau shows me a series of photographs stored in an envelope. It’s a personal moment, and I’m honoured to share it.
Be a Flat 8 guest
And Alex and Mau want to invite guests to join them for homemade vegan food, as well as art. On Wednesday evenings they will invite up to ten guests to join them in Flat 8 for a homemade dinner. During the daytime, you can arrange an afternoon tea. Interested? Contact them via Instagram to organise a viewing of their collection, including works for sale.
I really like this new concept of art apartment, allowing members of the public to come inside and explore art in a very different way. Informal, yes, and also profound.
Emerging artists don’t need galleries
Flat 8 is also a sign of the times. Particularly with the rise of social media, artists no longer depend upon representation by galleries to sell their work. Instead, artists can promote their artwork through sites such as Instagram, as well as dedicated platforms like Foundwork. This means you cut out the commission of galleries.
And Flat 8 isn’t the only art apartment in Birmingham. Room Art also opens its doors (located in Smethwick) to exhibitions of contemporary art and music events. Hosted by Melissa (a musician) and Marcin (a photographer), their aim is to enable guests “to hear live music in an intimate environment, and to engage arts with the community in a friendly and approachable way”.
Birmingham’s art scene has a buzz
Originally from Central America, I asked Mau what he makes of Birmingham:
“In Birmingham you have a very strong identity around art. There’s Digbeth, the Jewellery Quarter, photography, street art. It’s local and galleries celebrate Birmingham artists. I’ve found myself loving it”.
It’s true. Birmingham’s art community has a buzz.
So, why not see for yourself?