The Allies in NYC: A New Modern Art Pop Up

In May, Imagination in Space x We Are Pop Up closed The Allies, a pop up art show in NYC’s East Village. The show was a collaboration between artists (London’s Elmo Hood and Inkie and NYC’s Joey L, Sam Spratt, Misha T and Yazmany), retailers (Martenero watches, Heidi Gardner jewelry, Kea rugs), foodies (Farmigo and Ango, architects (PinkCloud.dk and Columbia’s GSAPP program  and space purveyors (We Are Pop Up and Made in the Lower East Side). Plus daily morning yoga from Pop Up Yoga NYC.

What was The Allies, exactly? An art gallery. A prototype for a new modern art gallery that’s more dynamic, vibrant, welcoming and democratic than traditional galleries. A decade after the Internet made the world social and open-source, galleries are generally still closed off, anti-social and repetitive. They run the same hardware: square rooms with white walls, a front desk, tiny art placards, minimalist window decals and opaque pricing. They run the same software, too: aloof staff, one event per show, free wine and the stiff soul of a library.

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A vibrant new modern art gallery
The Allies featured art, of course, but within the spirited rhythm of a festival. Over eight days, we hosted a press preview with live jazz, a launch party, an offsite after party, a pair of innovation dinners, a Memorial Day picnic and yoga. We made artist placards much bigger so guests didn’t have to stand an inch away like Mr. Magoo. We gave partner bios and artist bios equal emphasis. We played with acceptable landscape features, and broke whitespace rules – putting an aquarium with ticking watches adjacent to editioned Inkie prints. We priced democratically, not fearing that a low-price option would cannibalize the perception of a high-priced item. Art anchored the product selection, but it didn’t end there; The Allies extended into other unisex, one-size-fits-all options like watches, jewelry and yoga.

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The Allies is the second in a series of Imagination in Space art pop ups that are recreating the gallery model. (First up was American Dreams in London during Frieze 2013). The creative destruction starts with the artists we curated – new modern artists bound by a shared ethos of creating for the public, for commercial clients, for social media fans. Their style is polymath – based on, and fine-tuned by, the tastes of everyone, not the tastes of gallerists, art critics or an esoteric school of thought. Feedback is real-time, reach is global and mediums are endless. Artists, like bloggers a decade ago, don’t have to filter through gatekeepers. They go straight to the people. And even more important, artists no longer just interpret the world around us; they create worlds around us. Think about Banksy’s trip to NYC last year. He came, he conquered, we saw.

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For The Allies, we curated artists who are similar in their co-option of viral cultural canvases. Sam Spratt trained as an oil painter but illustrates on a Wacom tablet. He gets his work out to millions by creating for entertainment icons like Childish Gambino, Janelle Monáe and an upcoming presidential thriller. Joey L’s commercial work – headshots of DeNiro, promo assets for The History Channel – spreads his photography onto Times Square billboards and city phone booths. Inkie grew up in Bristol, tagging walls. Now he organizes street art festivals and paints snow at ski resorts. Misha T dominates the art battle circuit, creates murals and extends his style into product lines. Elmo Hood started under the Westway and created a viral art series out of playing cards. Yazmany’s public art brings thousands of balloons to international cities and, next month, a living sculpture of colored people in South Africa. If The Allies artists could be summed up in four words it’d be: Turn Down For What?

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The Allies By The Numbers

Like every retail brand out there, we think constantly about how to create a thriving, lifelike, experiential environment. With The Allies, we wanted to mirror the energy of new modern artists. (More about the experiential nature of The Allies in an upcoming post). But does energy and art gallery mix? Yes. Over eight days we generated $18,366 in sales with $2,600 more pending. Guests, artists and partners used #theallies hashtag on Instagram more than 100 times, our Facebook fan page doubled to 410 (uh oh, Audi here we come!), and secured 350 new email addresses for future invites. We received coverage from Artnet, Street Art NYC, Artinfo, Artnerd, Well and Good, The Wild and The Skint and had the opportunity to showcase incredible art from new modern artists for eight days in the heart of the city.