No single word wholly describes Smith & Partner: an advisory, dealership and gallery all at once. The organisation inaugurated its new home on the evening of Tuesday 15 September: a two-floor space in the heart of South Kensington, showcasing a selection of works from the collection. The event marked the physical expansion of Smith & Partner and also celebrated a shift in the organisation’s identity. Having set out as a financial advisory, the gallery continues to stay true to its investment-focused approach whilst seeking to integrate it with the – arguably essential – pleasure of seeing artworks in the flesh. The journey will be for a client’s heart as much as for their mind.
Smith & Partner is UK-founded and freshly London-based – aspiring beyond its current geographical boundaries. The ambition is to expand internationally in order to serve an increasingly global clientele. The fast-paced success of Smith & Partner is easily understood in light of the organisation’s guiding principle: to render the obscure, sometimes elitist art market a little more approachable and affordable.
The challenge is reflected – first and foremost – in the decision to specialise in limited edition prints, namely a series of works printed once-only. Edition sizes are pre-agreed, most often ranging between 5 and 500, and works from each series are signed and numbered by the maker or the master printer. Whilst limited-edition prints lack the antiquity of original artworks – something that can easily translate into sky-rocketing prices – it is the prints’ short supply which can represent an asset for collectors. To an extent, they encourage the public to celebrate rarity alongside exclusivity. Prints reproducing graffiti by street artist Banksy constitute perhaps the clearest example of this trend, as they have recently pushed beyond the £1 million threshold.
Smith & Partner’s collection of prints is vast and cross-category – qualities reflected by the Gloucester Road gallery exhibits. The space opens up with pieces by Miss Aniela, blending traditional photography with digitally enhanced imagery. The Surreal Fashion series sets models in contrast with classical motifs to create dream-like scenes. The concept of beauty and the gaze is again explored by four multi-plate, hand-printed lithographs deriving from the Marina Picasso Estate Collection and portraying four of Picasso’s muses. The works were published in the early 1980s and released posthumously with the permission of Picasso’s granddaughter. Besides collaborating with established artists or their estates, Smith & Partner also prides itself on selecting and investing in emerging artists. Such is the case with Holly Frean, whose A pack of Picasso’s Women – exhibited on the lower-ground floor – gestures towards the Modern master.
A particularly interesting work, perhaps, is the Battle of the Nile by Steven Dews, depicting the major 1789 naval battle which saw Lord Nelson fight Napoleon Bonaparte against the backdrop of the British Royal Navy versus the French Republic. As the only original artwork in the collection, the large-scale canvas hangs on a wall of its own. This privilege is reserved to only one other work in the gallery: Paolo Uccello, St. George and the Dragon by Andy Warhol, one of the only 50 copies from the series. He painted this picture in the 1980s, whilst collaborating with Jean-Michel Basquiat and openly referencing a 500-year-old motif dear to Italian Renaissance artists. Willem de Kooning famously once told Warhol, that he “couldn’t bear [his] work.” It is impossible for visitors not to hear the dialogues rising from and between the artists in the gallery. They add depth and value to the single works.
Meanwhile, Kevin T. Kelly collaborated with Breitling for the brand’s first New York boutique in January 2011, and his poignant prints unmistakably evoke Roy Lichtenstein as well as the King of Pop Art himself. Tamara de Lempicka, whose estate entered an exclusive agreement with Smith & Partner, can also be seen as an earlier counterpart of the two American artists, upholding a similar love of freedom. Above all, Smith & Partner seems to serve a purpose: to reassure most – and importantly, more – collectors that they will be able to find what they were looking for, or indeed be pleasantly surprised.
1. Miss Aniela, Gold Leaf.
2. Miss Aniela, Fire & Ice.
3. Miss Aniela, Enter the Golden Dragon.