Subject Matter Art make contemporary art photography from established and emerging international artists accessible. They passionately believe that art transforms any space, and that the art buying experience should be joyous and easy, not intimidating. They ensure that all artists are paid fairly, sharing 50% of profits, and welcome everyone from a first-time buyer, to a curator or passionate collector. We speak to Liezel Strauss, Founder of Subject Matter Art.
A: Your current exhibition merges contemporary furniture with contemporary art in a London townhouse: how was the show assembled?
LS: We love brand collaborations and passionately believe in startups helping one another. We therefore partnered with Scandinavian furniture brand and startup NORR11 for a group exhibition. One of our core aims is to make buying art easy, and with this exhibition we wanted to inspire people to visualise art in their own homes. NORR11’s furniture is very elegant, and the setting – a townhouse in Mayfair – is absolutely beautiful, so it was a perfect match for our contemporary pieces. We showcased 8 outstanding photographers Jef Claes, Aigli Andritsopoulou, Anca Cernoschi, Lyn+Tony, Cat Vinton, Daniella Zalcman , Oliver Schwarzwald & Michael Meyersfeld.
A: You have collaborated with many artists from all over the world, have there been any particularly memorable exhibitions?
LS: Yes many! It has been a wonderful journey (and roller coaster ride!). My very first exhibition in Tokyo was nerve-racking. I thought no one would come, but the gallery was packed and the artist David Stetson arrived on a Harley, making quite an entrance – it was a fantastic evening. I also have to mention Lyn+Tony’s exhibition in Harajuku. I was 8 months pregnant, just opened a 120m2 gallery on one of the main roads in Tokyo (a dream come true) and Lyn+Tony came from Australia for the installation and opening. It was fantastic working with them, seeing their creative process in action and getting to know them.
Working with the artists is definitely the highlight of running this business. We work with such talented artists who are such lovely and committed people, they totally make this journey worth it.
A: You recently changed from a bricks and mortar to an online gallery, has this been a positive change of pace?
LS: It has definitely been a positive change as it opens our ‘gallery doors’ to a much wider audience, the whole world! I am convinced that more people would buy art if it was easier. We meet so many people with a disposable income, very educated people, and almost all of them say the same thing: “I want to buy art, but the whole process makes me feel stupid.” We are changing this. We make the whole process as easy as possible. However it has not been easy for us. Cracking the art and luxury market online takes a lot of investment – and blood, sweat and tears. But we are in it for the long haul and will keep doing whatever it takes to get more people to buy their first piece of art, and for people to enjoy the process of buying art online. Nothing would give us greater joy.
A: You were recently selected for Campus London, Google’s startup school and accelerator. How did this come about and was it helpful for Subject Matter?
LS: I applied in summer for the programme and was delighted to get in! I applied because I have the vision and passion of making art buying easy and accessible but working on a startup can be isolating and exhausting. I wanted to surround myself with fellow entrepreneurs, find my community in the startup world and gain some knowledge on growing the business in a sustainable way. It was a 10 week program for parents with startups. It was incredibly helpful, we had an amazing line up of speakers, hands on advice and very helpful group work. I highly recommend this program for any startup in London, I left with renewed energy, an incredible resource list and a wonderful community.
A: When one looks at your website, one gets a clear sense of what an ethical business you are – you pay your artists fairly, and you are involved in two very interesting social initiatives. Can you tell us a bit more about them please?
LS: We started a crowdsourced photographic initiative called My Japan, a few weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, (we were living in Tokyo at the time). We asked online “What does Japan mean to you”. Thousands of pictures from around the world streamed in, celebrating Japan and its people. It resulted in four exhibitions, a coffee table book and a school project. We raised more than $30 000 for Tohoku and those affected by the disaster. This project really illustrated to us the power of photography and its accessibility.
A couple of months ago we were really upset by the refugee situation in Europe and particularly a lot of the negative media coverage of people who are literally fleeing for their lives. We realised we could do something along the lines of My Japan, but asking the question online “What does home mean to you?”. People may have very different views about the politics of the situation but this project is not about that – it’s about bringing people together to create something beautiful to help those in need. We are crowdsourcing photographs from people from around the world on our Facebook Page but also working with top photographers to interpret the question. The first exhibition will be on 2 June in London. All proceeds will go to the Refugee Council. Hopefully, as with My Japan, the exhibition will lead to a book and we can continue raising funds long after the spotlight is no longer on this issue.
A: Are there any interesting exhibitions in the New Year that we can look out for?
LS: We are doing a program with the Royal College of Art Fine Art Students next year on the topic of ‘Technology x Art’ followed by an exhibition tilted ’The Campaign’, 4 – 10 of April in the Dyson Gallery. We are collaborating with the Daily Overview to bring an exhibition to London to coincide with the book launch, dates are still being confirmed. We are also planning a talk in Somerset House on 19 January on the topic “How to buy art” and we are finalising some more for February.
Learn more about Subject Matter Art at www.subjectmatterart.com.
To see their listing in the Artists’ Directory in Issue 68 of Aesthetica Magazine, pick up a copy at www.aestheticamagazine.com.
Follow us on Twitter @AestheticaMag for the latest news in contemporary art and culture.
1. Steven Siegel, NY in the 80s – Office Lobby 1. Courtesy of Subject Matter Art.
2. Yuki Shima, Market Street. Courtesy of Subject Matter Art.