Leaving a mark in a digital art world

Interview with gallery owner Hans Alf and business partner Asger Bruun Nielsen

The art world has changed, since Hans Alf Gallery opened its door in Copenhagen for the first time in 2006. Running a gallery has become an infinitely more complex affair with more and more business online and a whole new range of players within the art scene. Gallery owner Hans Alf and his business partner Asger Bruun Nielsen dare to embrace this brave new art world on the rise while staying true to the gallery’s vision: to represent artists whose works they truly enjoy and would want to own themselves. An example is the Danish artist Erik A. Frandsen, whose ongoing investigation of classic still life is the focal point of the upcoming exhibition at Hans Alf Gallery, opening August 18, 2017. We met Hans Alf and Asger Bruun Nielsen to a talk about the gallery profile, its constant development and about leaving a mark in the art world of today.

Name: Hans Alf Gallery
Opening year: 2006
Number of artists: 17
Upcoming exhibitions: Erik A. Frandsen – New Works / Flower Angles (August 18 – October 7)

Erik A. Frandsen. Photo: Kristoffer Juel
Erik A. Frandsen. Photo: Kristoffer Juel

How did you get into the business of being a gallerist?
HANS: My career began in the oil industry and then I moved on to tech, which was the place to be in the late 90’s. By coincidence and for the love of art, I got involved in a gallery. It was a side project at first, but gradually it just took over to a point where, in 2006 I decided to open a gallery in my own name. Now, many years later, I can’t see myself doing anything else.

How would you describe the program and vision of your gallery?
HANS: We represent a select group of contemporary Danish and international artists, whose works span a variety of traditions, media and modes of expression. Still, the main focus is on classical oil painting, largescale drawings, photography and sculpture. Our gallery and profile continuously evolve, and hopefully this will never end.

You represent a group of Danish and international artists. Are they somehow related in their artistic practices?
ASGER: The most obvious common denominator is the fact that they all represent something we like and enjoy. We have a predilection for figurative art, which shows in our program. We would never represent an artist, whose works we wouldn’t want to own ourselves.

Asger Bruun Nielsen (left) and Hans Alf at Volta 2016

Where and how do you find new artists to work with?
HANS: By visiting art fairs, through the artists that we already work with, via various online platforms etc. We try to stay updated on the contemporary art scene – domestically and internationally – and so most of the artists, we approach, we’ve been following for quite a while.

In 2012 you moved from the meatpacking district, where the gallery had been located since its founding in 2006, to the city center. What was the motivation behind the relocation and did the new opening of your gallery space in the heart of Copenhagen influence the program of your gallery?
HANS: My first gallery (before opening under my own name in the meatpacking district) was located in the center of Copenhagen, and I actually missed that location. That was the main reason for moving. Our program, and the development of the gallery has continuously evolved, and our physical location has very little to do with this. That being said, the size of our space in Holbergsgade enables us to do larger, more daring things in our exhibitions.

Christian Lemmerz, Eiszwillinge, 2013-15, statuario marble, 120 x 120 x 50 cm
Installation view

Who is your main audience, primarily local or international collectors?
HANS: Both. Of course, Denmark is still our primary market, as this is where we’re located physically, but we do have quite a large number of loyal, international clients. And with the numerous online platforms for buying and selling art, like Artsy, Artnet and Artland, the boundaries are constantly being pushed. Even a seemingly informal medium like Instagram has the potential of reaching an unprecedented number of clients and connoisseurs.

What role do the art fairs play for you as a gallerist?
ASGER: Art fairs are important platforms for us, as they represent an extremely refined level of exposure. You might have a brilliant show in your gallery and sure, a lot of collectors and art professionals might stop by, but for 99,9% of the world’s art lovers it will go largely unnoticed. At a fair, it’s different: You’ve got anyone who is anything passing by your booth, and it’s completely up to you to grab their attention and draw them in. A lot of artists don’t get this; they scoff at fairs and somehow think it’s beneath them, but really, to do something spectacular at one of the major fairs – to leave a mark – could change your career and your life forever. A fair is a place to meet new clients, catch up with old ones, look for new artists and connect with your colleagues. But most of all, it’s a place to show who you are as a gallery.

Show opening

How has digitalization affected the dynamic of your business?
ASGER: We seem to be doing more and more business online and because of this, naturally a lot of energy goes into maintaining our online identity. This means consistently updating our various profiles – Artsy, Instagram, Artland, Facebook, our webpage etc. – adding images and information, creating content, and engaging in dialogue with an extremely diverse range of people. Running a gallery has become an infinitely more complex affair in the internet era. But it’s the only way.

On August 18, 2017, you will open a solo exhibition with the Danish artist Erik A. Frandsen entitled ‘New Works / Flower Angles’. What can we look forward to seeing in the show?
ASGER: Since he first started painting flowers almost 20 years ago, Erik A. Frandsen has garnered much praise for his ingenious take on the classic still life. Part of the appeal in Frandsen’s oeuvre is the fact that he continues to evolve and push the envelope. He’s worked in all sorts of materials – while ‘New Works’ is on in our gallery, he has a fresco exhibition in Århus and a neon/watercolor/fiberglass show at Brandt’s in Odense – and each time he visits or revisits one, a new layer is uncovered. In much the same way, the still lifes Frandsen paints now don’t resemble the ones he painted 6 years ago – or even six months ago! It is an ongoing investigation.

This time around, Frandsen takes a more Hockney-esque approach to his still lifes, presenting the same composition from slightly different angles, thus provoking the audience, forcing them to look closer and pick out the differences. Also, instead of exclusively painting cut-off flowers in all their pulchritude, a lot of the still lifes in the show will feature beat-up pots and dead flowers. I think people will be surprised.

About Hans Alf Gallery
Address: Holbergsgade 8, 1057 Copenhagen K
T: +45 33162232
Email: [email protected]
Gallery hours: Tuesday-Friday 13-18, Saturday 12-15
Website: Hans Alf Gallery