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KL photo - Chen Li Feb 2018 prints show

Charting New Horizons: an interview with Katrine Levin, Founder of Katrine Levin Galleries

Katrine Levin Galleries was launched in 2017, as a destination to discover extraordinary contemporary artists from places less explored. The idea was inspired by a trip to her step-father’s hometown in Kunming, the capital of China’s frontier Yunnan Province, where she was stunned by the calibre of art, depth of knowledge and experimentation. Katrine commits long-term to a small selection of masters of diverse styles, curating solo exhibitions for each. She immerses herself into the artists’ cultures, intimate stories, and places that inspired and informed their art to engage the viewers in a new perspective and to share a unique experience, insight and an intimate connection to each artist. 

Prior to establishing the gallery, Katrine practised Intellectual Property (IP) law in New York City and London for 15 years and attained an MLitt in History of Art from Renaissance to Modernism from Christie’s Education London. www.katrinelevin.com/

Dedicated to foregrounding the cultural context of such diverse works, Katrine Levin Galleries represents a range of dynamic practitioners who currently live and practice in their home country. The current focus is on Southwest China and Georgia.

Services offered include commissions by represented artists and consulting work

The gallery stages pop-up exhibitions in central London and Manhattan and has a strong online presence.

Stephanie Yeap spoke with Katrine at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in London…

1. Describe your business in 5 words

Discovering extraordinary artists from places less explored. That’s seven but the phrase really sums it up! 

2. What inspired you to pursue this career? 

After practising law for 15 years I shifted gears and graduated from Christie’s Education in London with a Masters in Art History. My step-father is Chinese, and being very practical, he told me that I had to put my degree to good use and took me to his hometown in Kunming, in China’s frontier Yunnan Province, where he was raised during the Cultural Revolution. I was absolutely astounded by the depth and breadth of knowledge there. It’s such a remote province, I didn’t expect it: not only do Yunnan artists know their own culture but they also have a deeper understanding of Western art history than most people here do. Certainly, more than I have! They have all of this to draw on for experimentation, so that was incredible to me.

Kunming was where I met Chen Li, whose work just floored me. He was the one that prompted me to start a gallery because I had to bring him over here. He also made me realise there is so much talent in places that I would say are less explored. For example, China’s Beijing and Shanghai and neighbouring provinces are quite well-known, but  Yunnan is relatively unknown and quite far from the central cities, it’s on the border with Burma and Laos, and close to Tibet. 

So seeing Chen Li’s works and the depth of knowledge in Yunnan gave me the idea to represent artists from places less explored. And then the rest fell into place because shortly afterwards I stumbled upon a fantastic Georgian artist. Again, Georgia, even though it isn’t that far away from us in London, most people have never been there and don’t know anything about it. So everything just took on a life of its own after that.

3. What’s the most wonderful thing about the profession? 

Discovering artists is an incredible rush. Getting to know them as individuals is rewarding and wonderful, and getting to know their culture is equally fascinating. Sharing these discoveries with Western audiences is also extremely rewarding; when someone comes in and sees a work of art and their eyes open wide, saying, wow, I didn’t know about this! Then they discover the artist and create this intimate connection with them, I think that’s fantastic. 

I focus on art that engages intellectually but also makes you happy! Of course, art can evoke a broad range of emotions that are not joy, but I choose to focus on those rare pieces that bring genuine happiness, and this too is very fulfilling.

4. And let’s get real… What’s the most challenging aspect of the profession? 

Dealing with contemporary art, the real challenge is defining and reaching the customer base. Everyone is bombarded with openings and exhibitions and artists, so my main challenge has been getting the attention of people who are interested in what I’m doing. Getting seen and attracting audiences is a big deal for everybody, as well as keeping it fresh, relevant and interesting. 

5. What’s the best piece of professional advice you’ve been given? 

It’s from a friend of mine, who saw that I was hesitating for a year before committing to opening the gallery. I just couldn’t make that first commitment, financially and putting myself out there and being vulnerable. She said, “darling, you know if you don’t make that first step, it’s not gonna happen, right?” And strangely enough, that IS the best piece of professional advice I’ve been given: at some point you just have to jump.

Obviously, have a plan, but just do it! It’s the hardest thing to make that first step and there will be mistakes and you will learn from them, but at least you’ve got the show on the road.

6. What do you now say to someone who is just starting out? (Maybe it’s that one thing you wish someone had told you!)

I would say the same thing, have a plan and commit. Also, trust your instincts and be flexible with your plan, which doesn’t mean jumping at every idea that pops into your head, but understanding that things might take a different direction. Don’t try to stick with some preconceived notion of how things should be, just go with the flow.

7. What challenge is the industry facing that art dealers need to address? 

Ah, so many! There is obviously how to best utilise possibilities online and in virtual reality, which is up-and-coming. The physical gallery format is changing more and more towards pop-up and online, with participation in fairs playing an important role. But fairs can be very expensive and you need to be careful about selecting the right location and audience for the artist’s aesthetic and price point. Everything’s in flux which makes it both exciting and challenging.

8. If you had to be one work of art, what would you be – and why?

Screen Shot 2019-07-17 at 10.33.54 AM 1 

‘Women and Bird in the Moonlight’ (1949) by Joan Miró (1893 – 1983). Image from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/miro-women-and-bird-in-the-moonlight-n06007

Aside from my own artists, I’d say any works by Miró – they make me happy. 

9. What do you personally believe are the best advantages of being part of an association like AWAD, and how have you benefited?

Advice is definitely the most important thing. When I had questions about shippers or art fair, people responded and all that insider knowledge is worth its weight in gold. The support of other members and the general openness about how to better run your business is invaluable. Susan (the founder and CEO of AWAD) has been tremendous and has negotiated AWAD discounts for professional services, such as shipping.

10. How can you make the most out of being a member of a professional network?

I think it’s by getting advice and being able to run ideas and get opinions from people in the same field. What I like is that AWAD consists of women who are happy to support each other and obviously, the friendship and collegiality as well!

www.katrinelevin.com/

Instagram: @katrinelevingalleries // Facebook @KatrineLevinGalleries // Twitter  @KatrineArtSpeak

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