At a time when museums are focused on churning out blockbuster exhibitions, it is easy to overlook the importance of gallery spaces. These have long been one of the oldest platforms for viewers to discover and appreciate art, but for beginners, it can be a daunting experience.
Enter Cuturi Gallery, which champions local emerging artists and fosters a more streamlined approach to accessing art. We speak to Founder Kevin Cuturi on how he got started in the art world, the gallery’s discoveries and collectors club initiatives, and the role of the gallerist today.
Tell us about how you decided to open Cuturi Gallery, what type of art does the gallery showcase?
I’m actually a physicist by training so I didn’t study art to begin with. I worked for different startups as well as Amazon but I have a great passion for the arts. I wanted to put my passion into practice after being in Singapore and seeing the infrastructure here. Art is almost an obsession for me so I wanted to bring something new to the table — we like to call ourselves a ‘next-generation art gallery.’
We show high-quality art and hope it will be international enough to cover different regions, such as America, Europe, and Southeast Asia.
Regarding the programmes, I’d like the gallery to be very energetic and dynamic. I want to make the gallery a place where people can encounter and experience art differently. We have the c/discoveries programme, which supports young emerging artists and helps to develop the next generation of Singaporean art patrons. There’s another programme called the collectors club, where enthusiasts gather to talk to artists, gain a long term vision on the industry, and be part of our family.
You were with Amazon for a few years prior to entering the gallery business. Why join the art world?
I spent all my free time visiting exhibitions, researching artists, and following them on Instagram. I quickly realised that this was my passion, so I opened the gallery and realised this was what I wanted to do.
How do you think your previous professions have shaped your approach to running Cuturi Gallery?
The identity of the Gallery is very similar to that of a start-up. The common thread in all my roles was being an entrepreneur. This is not just about creating things, it’s also a working attitude of trying to solve problems and knowing that not all the solutions you propose are right. What’s important is to iterate and change. That’s something I learnt at Amazon and that’s how I hope to grow our programmes.
How has the role of the gallerist changed in the past few years and what do you believe the role of the gallery is now?
To put things in context, the gallerist was pretty much the face of all the works in the gallery. The gallerist had a lot of power, if you will. This is no longer the case today as artists have platforms and social networks to share their voice. You don’t really need to follow the gallery to learn about the artist and their works.
The gallery plays a different role now in the sense that the gallerist is a partner. We work together to promote the art as the artist cannot be omnipresent. On top of that, we’ve seen many roles rising in the industry: your curators, art consultants, and people always ask, where does the gallery stand? We are facilitators in the end, and with Cuturi Gallery, I hope to bridge viewers, collectors, artists, and major industry players.
Tell us more about how the c/discoveries initiative came about, and how you decided to showcase the works of local emerging artists Yunita Rebekah and Aisha Rosli.
This came as a result of observation. I went to art fairs internationally but never heard much about Singaporean artists. I visited local independent art spaces and found lots of talent there. I wondered what was missing, and realised that artists face many problems when they graduate, such as the high cost of living. To support themselves, many artists take up side jobs and only produce works sporadically.
When these artists don’t produce a lot of works, they aren’t seen or sold, and the artist cannot progress. Then I decided to give these artists a platform to show their works and offer them some financial support. We bought them good quality canvases and paint and waited to see what would happen.
Another obstacle for artists to sell is the price so we created a pricing strategy that ensures prices aren’t a barrier for the buyer. The only way to do that without compromising the artists was to reduce the gallery’s margin, to the point where I decided to remove it completely. This led us to the 80/20 model, where 80 percent of the sale goes directly to the artists and the remaining 20 percent funds the price of materials.
In a nutshell, I want to ensure viewers can access works by young artists as this would lead to a new generation of local art patrons. We want to create a cycle where Singaporean buyers purchase Singaporean art, which is the key for success in all countries
Why do you think Singaporeans might not be as interested in supporting local artists?
I believe it’s more about the process behind becoming interested in art. No one is born enthusiastic about art: we only develop an interest when we are exposed to it. Museums and galleries in Singapore are in place to foster the growth of art appreciation.
As a gallerist, I hope to make the prices and access to art as easy as possible. We want people to feel welcome, rather than feeling judged and that they shouldn’t be there.
How do you think arts patronage amongst Singaporeans and support for emerging local artists can be fostered?
This is always a chicken and egg problem. In order to have patronage, you need to have artworks but in order to produce artworks, you need to have patrons. Our role in this is promoting artists and allowing them to produce say, five quality works so patrons have something to purchase. Patrons will come as a result of younger artists being able to make a living from their work.
Cuturi Gallery was founded with the intention of democratising the art world and ensuring accessibility. What does this mean to you, and how do you think galleries and institutions in Singapore can encourage it?
For me, it’s very simple. We shouldn’t hear anyone say that they don’t understand art or aren’t interested. The key to the whole democratisation process is to let people experience art in their own way.
At Cuturi Gallery, we want to create an atmosphere that allows the viewers to come in and form their own opinion about what they see without being judged. We foster this by showing high-quality works that are easy to understand. c/discoveries essentially bridges more complicated artworks and entry-level pieces that are of great quality.
On the topic of social media and artists building their own audiences, do you think the future of galleries is at stake and if this ability is a good or bad thing?
I don’t believe you can rely solely on online channels for art sales. I believe there are three pillars when you purchase art. Firstly, you need to like it. Secondly, the price has to be within your range. Lastly, the experience of viewing the work is critical and it has to be in person.
An artist can have 40,000 followers but they might not sell unless people have seen the works in person. Experts will tell you this as well. Artists with over 100,000 followers still want to be represented by galleries and at fairs to show the works in person, even if they know they’d make less than if they were to sell directly. You can have many followers but it won’t translate to sales. I’m not a full believer in the online model but it works when combined with a physical experience in galleries or at fairs.