Education is very important in a young market like ours. Interview with Atty Tantivit from Atta Gallery

Interview  /  CarolinDenter   Galleries   CriticalThinking   Market
Published: 01.03.2019
Atty Tantivit Atty Tantivit
Carolin Denter
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The new series by Klimt02 offers space for questions, ideas, and discussions about galleries, artists and the current jewellery market. This is the second interview in a series of 12 interviews with gallerists and art dealers from around the world.

We discuss with Atinuj Atty Tantivit, founder of the first and only Gallery that specializes in the topic of contemporary jewellery.  ATTA Gallery exhibits works of jewelry artists - both established and new talents, local and international - in order to promote the art of jewelry making to the wider public both locally and internationally. The Gallery is located in a quaint neighborhood along the Chao Phraya River and occupies two rooms, totaling about 50 square meters, in an intimate shopping arcade called O. P. Garden along with other galleries and unique specialty shops. 
Please describe your gallery’s criteria in one sentence.
Contemporary jewelry and body related pieces of art with original ideas and exceptional craftsmanship.

Please tell us more about Atta Gallery and the Asian contemporary jewellery market: what major successes and challenges have you had this year?
We are the only contemporary jewelry “gallery” in South East Asia so our market is very niche and very small. The field of contemporary art is growing in the region but people are still resistant to the concept of wearable pieces of contemporary art…which is contemporary jewelry. The challenge this past year is the slow economy, both locally as well as worldwide due to uncertainty in politics. Success in this past year (2018) would be that we celebrated our 8th anniversary and had shown work by coveted artists, such as Helen Britton and David Bielander, for the first time in South East Asia. These efforts raised our visibility and credibility in the contemporary art market in Thailand.

Streetview of Atta Gallery with the exhibition display of "Diversity Galore" curated by Charon Kransen.

Many galleries curate their artists with a specific vision in mind. You are promoting especially thai- artists. Please tell us more about your personal vision.
My vision for the gallery is to give the overview of the field to a local/regional audience so that they have a better understanding of the whole field, of their available options, as well as offering them something that may suit their personal preferences. We encourage self-expression through the creation and wearing of contemporary jewelry so I tried to work with artists who have unique ways of expressing themselves. And that means both local and international, both well-established and emerging artists.
I promote Thai artists because their works deserve to be known internationally, as most of them are not represented by other international galleries yet. Another reason I heavily promote Thai artists is in the hope that the younger generation of Thais will look at this as a viable career option and enter the field of contemporary jewelry.

Regarding the marketing aspects of running a gallery, what do you think is the most important part for your gallery?
Education is very important in a young market like mine. Without the understanding of what they are looking at, no sales would be possible. A major part of our efforts goes into educating the public and students in the field of art/craft/design through casual and formal events, either at the gallery or at universities and local professional art fairs. It is important for our audience to understand what contemporary jewelry is and why they should consider buying contemporary jewelry.
In Asia where the collective mindset is the norm, reaching out to and encouraging people to express their individuality is a challenge but it’s what we aim to do. Self-expression is important for us as the word ATTA actually means self or “ego” in Bali, an ancient Indian language widely used in the Thai language. So it’s fitting that we push for self-expression in our marketing campaigns and our curatorial programs like I mentioned before. I would like people to associate us ATTA Gallery, our brand, with the confidence in expressing themselves.

  • In Asia where the collective mindset is the norm, reaching out to and encouraging people to express their individuality is a challenge but it’s what we aim to do.

Is a professional sales platform that develops and shares your work to increase sales something that interests you? What are your thoughts?
It’s a good way to increase visibility but I think it’s not really for us just yet in terms of increasing sales. Right now I base my decision purely on cost-benefit analysis and we are not in a position to pay a considerably large sum of money to promote through such platforms yet. Plus, I think contemporary jewelry is something one has to see and feel in person to make a buying decision. It’s very personal…the piece has to speak to you. Purchasing a piece of contemporary jewelry is like finding a soulmate. Call me old fashion…I don’t think I can find my soulmate just by looking at profiles on online dating sites… And we are in Asia so getting European and American audiences to consider us against our colleagues in Europe and the US is a challenge. Trust is also an issue when it comes to closing a sale. If the customers don’t really know you personally, don’t know your performances, etc., it would be hard for them to buy from you.

  • Right now I base my decision purely on cost-benefit analysis.

Talking about the professional market: What are the values of your gallery in the professional market and what kind of values do you look for in the jewellery artists you represent?
I think ATTA Gallery adds values to the professional market in a way that we bring international artists who might not have had an opportunity to show their work here, in a “remote” South East Asia. And promoting artists from this corner of the world to the European market during Frame at Schmuck for example where we only show works by Asian-Pacific artists. I think of other galleries as colleagues so to me we are not competing against each other but rather cooperating in raising the bar within the field as well as bringing awareness in from people outside of the field. We had a few “exchange” exhibitions with other galleries in the past and there will be another one coming up towards the end of this year.
The values I look for from artists I am representing are originality, professionality, and commitment. Without these values, I don’t think much would be added to the field. And headaches can be expected!

Besides selling pieces, how do you see the role of the gallerist in the artist-gallery relationship? What do you think is missing at the moment and what do you think should cease to exist if any?
I see gallerist’s role as a Partner/Collaborator to the artists. Like in any relationship, the key to success between partners, two people, is collaboration which involves effective communication and a lot of creativity in order to create trust and loyalty, and to create a win-win situation for both sides!
Gallerists are the ones that get to have direct contact with customers. We hear lots of comments, questions, etc. about the work while interacting with customers during their visits as well as their decision-making process. The information we have for artists regarding how to better “improve” their works in order to secure more sales is invaluable. However, to be able to share that with artists and to be able to get the information to them without them feeling judged needs a lot of tact and trust. It’s definitely not a comfortable situation but without learning from these comments and taking them into consideration, we are stuck. So it’s important to have an understanding that we are working together as a team in order to grow together.
It is our goal to create a win-win-win situation for the artists, our customers and also the gallery. We cannot survive in the long run if we do not make profits. Not every gallery has access to collectors and institutions and therefore we need to sell to “normal” people who look for pieces that they could actually wear on a more regular basis. I, as a gallerist and a maker myself, totally understand that some pieces are loaded with interesting concepts but hard to wear or not wearable at all. But for non-collecting customers, wearability is still a very important factor. Artists need to understand that and both the gallery and the artist need to be on the same page about their goals and practices. Artists need to know that we galleries cannot rely on a small group of collectors to survive.
What I think is still missing is the close partnership/collaborative relationship between gallery and artists. Since artists work with a few galleries and mainly work on their own, galleries don’t have much say about their works. Although we give them comments on their work, we don’t get to see their finished collections until sometimes only days before setting up the exhibition. Because of this, we can only give them feedback on the works afterward, with the hope that they would be taken into consideration in the future. It would be much better if we work together more closely so that they could show us the works and we can give them comments before the works are finalized. Sometimes little things like a pin that would not go through the fabric or snag the fabric can ruin promising sales.

  • For non-collecting customers, wearability is still a very important factor.

Artists typically receive payment for their work when it is purchased, with a percentage taken out by the gallery. What do you think about this? What is the future of this model? If as a gallerist you think there should be changes what are they?
I think artists and gallerists should share risks in this together. The partnerships between the two are not as structured as in the contemporary art market. Galleries take a risk in showing works that we might not have even seen in person beforehand. The artists have to share the risk with the work they created. In this way, I think it’s fair to pay the artists after the sales. Like I mention before, right now in most cases, galleries in our field only act like “retail spaces” for artists.
If it’s done differently in that the partnership between gallery and artist is much closer, that the artists and gallery work on the concept/creation of the work together, then I think a different payment structure would be appropriate. In this case, the gallery would be much more confident in the work and therefore might be able to share investment responsibility such as production cost and risk with artist up front.

Art gallery openings and closings have always been part of the art world, but recently, there have been more closings than ever in Europe. The annual report on the art market published Art Basel and UBS omit that in 2017, for the first time in 10 years, closings of galleries outnumbered openings. How do you see the future of your own gallery and what are your hopes regarding this issue? Do you see any differences between the Asian and the Western market?
The closing down of galleries in Europe is not my worry. It’s natural to have galleries closing down. Though it was my worried last year that there are no new galleries opening up in our field but just within the last year, we have at least 2 new galleries opened up. More galleries are opening in non-major markets like in Asia and Central America. The role of smaller and younger international players like us will help determine the future of our field.
In Europe, the main supporters and collectors of contemporary jewelry basically grew up with the field. They are of the same generations as the artists as well as the gallerists. In Asia where the field is young, I think we have to tap into a younger crowd, a crowd that would “grow” with us and become our main supporters and collectors. Also, a crowd that would understand the “language” being used by the younger generation of artists.
As for the future of my gallery, if contemporary jewelry field has lost its magic…and to borrow Marie Kondo’s concept…if it no longer “sparks joy” for me, then I would consider closing the gallery. My decision will not be based on whether it’s a profitable business or not. I joke around that I run my gallery as a social enterprise but I think it’s true to some level. It’s good to make money…If I based my decision only on profitability, I would have closed the gallery a while ago. If I close the gallery, no one else will promote this field in this region…and that is something I do not want to see happening just yet.

  •  In Asia where the field is young, I think we have to tap into a younger crowd, a crowd that would “grow” with us and become our main supporters and collectors.

According to John Martin, a contemporary artist with a gallery in the Mayfair district of London stated in an interview with the New York Times that, “the collectors aren’t going to galleries anymore, they’re going to art fairs. They’re less intimidating, more social, more convenient, and they’re open in the evenings and at the weekends. People are time poor.” You are representing at FRAME during SCHMUCK each year, can you tell any differences between the fair and the customer coming to your gallery? And could you relate to this recollection of a contemporary art gallerist?
Well, first of all, FRAME is not like Art Basel. The audience that comes to FRAME is definitely not like the collectors that go to such art fair. Most of the people walking through the fairground are local people who have no idea what contemporary jewelry, nonetheless contemporary art, is about. A good percentage of fairgoers are students who are eager to see what is out there in the market, only a small percentage of the fairgoers are actually buyers…and even a smaller number are collectors. It is definitely a social event where people meet and catch up but in terms of doing business, it’s still not ideal as the main purpose for the people coming to FRAME is not to buy. FRAME is part of Schmuck which takes place all around Munich. Collectors also go to artists’ exhibitions to buy the newest body of works directly from them. The structure of our field is not quite the same as that of the contemporary art field in this sense. Also, we cannot rely on only a small group of people, collectors, to support the whole field. Most collectors also come to the fair equipped with a list of what they want to buy. So if your artists are not on their lists, then it’s hard to convince them otherwise. They have quite a specific way of collecting. And because of this, it’s important to encourage “normal” people outside the field to buy and wear jewelry.
We go to FRAME not really expecting much sales but more to promote the gallery and our artists as well as to make people in other markets know more about us so they think of us if and when they come to Bangkok. It’s also a chance for us to meet with artists we work within Europe as it’s important for us to meet them personally at least once a year.
Customers that come to the gallery are also varied. Since the field is still young here in Thailand, we have people who come in out of curiosity as well as people who followed guidebooks to our gallery. However, we do have returned customers from here in Bangkok as well as in other countries in the region. At the gallery, one can have a more intimate time with the pieces with no rush. The atmosphere of the gallery is a lot more relaxing for customers than a booth at an art fair. And again, we do not rely heavily on collectors as there are only a few people who would be considered as collectors in the region.

Exhibition display of Atta Gallery at FRAME during Handwerk & Design in Munich 2018. 

What would be your approach to expand, strengthen and change the art market based on your professional experience? What are your thoughts on improving the contemporary jewellery market?
Promoting outside the current contemporary jewelry market. The new base of the audience needs to be identified. For me, I am looking into participating in a contemporary art fair in Asia. Like I said before, our field cannot rely on only a small group of aging collectors. Galleries cannot compete heads on with each other. We should spread ourselves out and try to tap into new markets wherever we are located.
I believe that there are demands for the kind of jewelry we sell out there but we, who hold the supplies, are not “visible” to them. It’s almost like we are living in a parallel universe! If this group of people who look for unique, inventive jewelry has not stumbled upon one of the galleries either during art fairs or their travel, how would they find us? I tried doing a google search for the kind of jewelry we promote but I didn’t know which keyword to use! Contemporary jewelry? Art Jewelry? Wearable art? None of these keywords give me results that would be conclusive of the kind of jewelry we promote. Try it! And by the way, people outside of our field don’t even know the word contemporary jewelry exists!
So, unless this group of people knows exactly what they are looking for and the keyword for the search…the name of the gallery or artist…most likely they would not find us. I strongly believe that in the time where people search for things and information online, we should seriously think about how to make ourselves, as a collective field, visible to the untapped potential buyers out there. I have been talking about this for a few years now with others but so far I haven’t been able to get them on board with the idea. Some people I talked to missed the point and they thought I only talked about one of those “are we art/design/craft?” issues. But what I am talking about is not how we identify what we do, but how to identify ourselves as a collective identity over the internet so that the untapped potential buyers could finally find us.

About the Interviewee

Born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand, Atty Tantivit founded ATTA Gallery, specializes in contemporary art jewelry and body related art objects, in 2010. She entered the field as a maker but now spends most of her time as a gallerist.   She is a promoter as well as collectors of contemporary jewelry, contemporary art, craft and design objects.  She believes that contemporary jewelry could and should be worn confidently on a regular basis to express one’s unique self.

About the author

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. In 2015 she made an Internship at Klimt02, where she is working since 2016. In 2017 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she started working part-time as Marketing and Design management Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement.