Sean Kelly | “Like Marshall McLuhan Once Said, The Medium Is The Message”
Art7 Minutes Read

Sean Kelly | “Like Marshall McLuhan Once Said, The Medium Is The Message”

May 8, 2022 Share

The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF) New York will run from May 6 -10, 2022, at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. One of the returning exhibitors this year, Sean Kelly, talks us through what his creative empire means to him.

This year, from unique art to leading institutions, one of the multiple galleries showcasing this week, The European Fine Art Foundation (TEFAF), is a maze worth seeing.

The fair is in a prime artistic location and setting for the world’s leading art dealers to showcase their work, and this year runs from May 6 – 10 inside the historic armoury. Located at 643 Park Avenue in Manhattan’s Upper East Side neighbourhood, the TEFAF 2022 event is at long last back.

Intended to spotlight the top artists of the time and act as a driving force in supporting the role galleries play in nurturing artists’ careers, the annual event attracts art perusers and professionals alike.

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Guests can expect items to range in style, eras, cultures, and mediums from 91 dealers, with 78 returning and 13 exhibiting for the first time. The gallery spaces are white cubes that form a family of exhibition spaces spanning interconnected open spaces. This is where the unlimited white-walled booths create a room designed for works to thrive.

“Decades ago you could compare the art market to a stream. But now it’s like the Orinoco River – a giant flood”

– Founder of Sean Kelly Gallery, Artload.

One of the returning New York exhibitors has long awaited the in-person appointment to showcase eight of their finest artists this year. Sean Kelly Gallery is an icon, a visionary – a space for intellectual artists to breathe in an opportunity to work with a passionate founder whose life in the art world flourished in time. Now his gallery empire gathers New York’s most delicate and doubles in square feet.

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

British-born Sean Kelly, the founder of the Sean Kelly Gallery, was trained as an artist and subsequently became a curator at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and Museum in Swansea, Wales. This soon led him to become the Director of Visual Arts for the Bath International Arts Festival in England before founding and directing Artsite, a site-specific exhibition program, before moving to New York. “In 1989, I decided to take the leap and move to America to see what the other side of the coin was like,” says Kelly.

But once he crossed the border, things took a turn for the worse when he found himself out of a job in New York with his back against the wall. However, his passion and purpose-driven love for art never stopped him from pushing on. After working with private artists for a while, it wasn’t until 1991 that he decided to open Seak Kelly Gallery in SoHo 1995. During these formative years, Kelly quickly developed a reputation for his commitment to artists whose work is ambitious, challenging, intellectual and unconventional.

In a New York career that has spanned over two decades, Sean Kelly has become a symbol for high quality, challenging contemporary art, mounting hundreds of solo and group exhibitions that have included the work of many of the most significant artists of our time. 

The gallery, currently one of the most prominent globally, occupies 22,000 square feet of space designed by award-winning architect Toshiko Mori in the Hudson Yards neighbourhood. It represents some of the world’s most influential artists, such as Marina Abramović, Rebecca Horn, Joseph Kosuth, Antony Gormley, Shahzia Sikander and Kehinde Wiley. 

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

With the week opening of one of the world’s biggest art fairs, TEFAF 2022, Sean Kelly chats with DDW to share his thoughts on the event of the year:

What does your business mean to you, and how do the artists in your gallery reflect your vision?

(SK): “Sean Kelly means freedom. The freedom to choose to show what we believe in and care about and what we’re committed to. Not necessarily the most financially viable, but we’re fiercely independent. We have our views aesthetically and professionally. Sean Kelly stands for that independence and individuality. 

The artists we choose are at the core of that media message. So they don’t reflect what Sean Kelly is – Sean Kelly reflects what they are. They are the mission. They are the message. It’s all about the artists. We look for very unique, independent, strong artists who we believe are changing the landscape and the language of the cultural moment. Some would argue that other artists do that more profoundly because they achieve higher prices at auction and make more money. 

But if you divorce the money aspect from it, we can reasonably claim to have changed what our artists have contributed in terms of the culture and language of art. And that’s really what I’m always looking for.”

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Why do you think the concept of the TEFAF New York or contemporary art fairs, in general, is essential?

(SK): “The truth of the matter is that TEFAF is unique. It’s the only fair that, at the very highest level, brings together galleries working with antiquities with modern art, contemporary art, design and jewellery. So it’s across the entire spectrum of the cultural field. TEFAF is a uniquely European art fair, and I think it is a natural breath of fresh air in New York. It’s a vibrant visual feast.” 

Sean Kelly
Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

We see that this year you are exhibiting a host of artists. What is it about these artists you love, and why should visitors pay attention to their vision?

(SK): “We’ve done a unique booth this year. I think it’s very distinctive. It’s getting a lot of attention. And I think it’s a bit of a standout at TEFAF since it’s memorable. This year, the artists we’ve chosen to concentrate on are in a conceptual dialogue. Several works on the booth make a proposition, but you find out that the offer is entirely impossible. 

They ask you to suspend disbelief and think about what the artists are addressing conceptually, I believe, in an enriching way. The booth is exciting and playful, but it also asks serious questions. And I guess that’s a reasonably good reflection of how we pass through this rapidly changing world.”

Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

Who are some of the highlight exhibits you are dying to see this year at the TEFAF New York?

(SK): “Just off the top of my head, I guess I’d like to step outside of my world and say, Charles Ede, an antique dealer from London. I love what they do, and they always have fantastic pieces. They’re always fascinating material and very well priced, very fair. There’s also a design gallery from Paris called Maria Wettergren that I love, so I will for sure be visiting and paying close attention to them.”

Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022. May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363. Photography: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy: Sean Kelly, New York

If someone had never heard of your gallery or the fair before, what important things would you want them to know?

(SK): “I would want them to know that they can walk in here and be welcomed, be taken seriously, be treated in a respectful manner, whatever the age or the creed or sexual orientation or the colour of their skin. We will be more than happy to spend time with them talking about the work that they’ll see. We hope it will make people look at the art and engage with it to break down some preconceptions and barriers surrounding the art world. Our mission is to build a bridge that will allow people to cross into our world to feel comfortable, welcomed and eventually embrace us.”

Visit Sean Kelly at TEFAF New York 2022, May 6 – 10, 2022, Park Avenue Armory, Booth 363.