Mendes Wood DM Gallery Is Banking on Pop-Up Shows in the World’s Most Beautiful Homes. So Far, It’s Working
In the past two years, the gallery has held exhibitions in a 17th-century Dutch church and a famed architect's home in Connecticut.
When everyone started spending more time at home in 2020, the directors of the Mendes Wood DM gallery started thinking along similar lines.
That year, they organized a summer show in a 17th-century brick church in the picturesque Dutch town of Retranchement at the border between the Netherlands and Belgium. The town serves as a retreat for monied Europeans in Benelux and was chosen especially because of its proximity to the wealthy seaside town Knokke, a half-hour bike ride away.
The gallery tacked its show, which served as an introduction to its stable of artists, onto a season of cultural events around the area. Works of varying scales by artists like Michael Dean played with the space of the historic venue, and the gallery returned to the church last summer for another group exhibition titled “Days of Inertia.”
In fall 2020, with Blum & Poe and the design fair Object & Thing, the gallery took over the Eliot Noyes house, a Modernist home tucked in around trees in the collector-rich area of New Canaan, Connecticut. Made of stone and glass, the residential palace became the site of an exhibition worthy of the pages of Architectural Digest.
“The exhibitions in off-site places that have an outdoor element or are away from the city gave people a more comfortable position from which to enjoy art,” Carolyn Drake, a Mendes Wood DM partner based in Brussels, told Artnet News. “We want to provide an interesting and different context for our artists. We wanted to give them fresh exposure, especially to people who may not have visited our gallery spaces.”
Mendes Wood DM, which has permanent locations in Brussels, São Paulo, and New York, was spurred to find new formats amid pandemic shutdowns. It was also responding to so-called fair fatigue, and sought new ways and places in which to engage collectors. Yet while mega-galleries have the capital to set up permanent shops in destination locations like Palm Beach and Mallorca, galleries like Mendes Wood DM have to be more selective.
But that doesn’t mean it’s skimping.
In 2020 and 2021, Mendes Wood DM took over a breathtaking 18th-century neoclassical estate in the North of Italy called Villa Era for a string of exhibitions. In 2020, the space hosted works by Cristina Canale, Brice Guilbert, Vojtěch Kovařík, and Paulo Nazareth.
“It’s interesting to test out new places and find out what could be possible in a longer-term sense within the means possible,” Drake said, adding that there are multiple reasons, many of them practical, for nomadic shows.
Brazilian artist Adriano Costa, for example, is in Brussels preparing for a solo exhibition opening March 19. So Mendes Wood DM is considering presenting Costa’s works in Rome in the spring.
“If an artist is in a particular place and makes some work, we will try to figure out a way to show that work without having to ship it halfway across the world,” she said. “We are quite agile in responding to our artists’ needs in any moment.”
Last summer, working again with Blum & Poe and Object & Thing, Mendes Wood DM took over another Modern home, this one designed by the architect Gerald Luss in Ossining, New York. The acclaimed architect is now 96 and still lives in the house, which he designed in 1955. (“It’s never looked this good,” he told a curator about the home.)
“It can be a lot of extra work, but we love it,” Drake said. “When our team is excited about a project, they go the extra mile to make it happen.” It helps that the gallery, which participates regularly in fairs, is well-versed in these kinds of temporary setups.
Drake said the gallery is now looking for permanent new spaces that offer the same kind of inspiring and intimate architecture.
“These are places where we feel like we can add something to the artists’ careers,” she said. “There are collectors around or interesting intellectuals to get a conversation going. People move in packs, and we are trying to meet and engage in these places. There is not one particular formula.”
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