In a conversation John Milton, the founder and owner of one of the most commercially successful contemporary art galleries in Bath, Atticus art gallery, spoke about whether contemporary European and UK art has a future in the global context, whether art dealers should count on government support and how the London and Bath art markets differ.

John Milton has been professionally involved in contemporary art since the late 90s. In the 2000s, he opened the Atticus art gallery, which for more than 20 years has been one of the most influential galleries – not only in Bath, but in the entire UK. Among others, the gallery presents works by Nicholas Patchouli, George Akinvoy, Alina Khalitova, Mahmoud Danul and Elena Pagodi. Atticus art gallery regularly participates in major contemporary art fairs in the UK, and until recently participated in fairs abroad, such as viennacontemporary, Art Miami, and many others.

The new 666 art fair in Bath

JM: For 22 years, the gallery has accumulated vast experience in participating in world fairs. We have been to ARCO Madrid, Art Miami, viennacontemporary, Contemporary Istanbul and Art Paris many times. But I always wanted to have a professionally organized fair in our city. There were many attempts, but unsuccessful ones. A few years ago, the leadership of FIAC (the Parisian annual contemporary art fair) came to Bath with the intention of opening their project.

Bath has great potential to open an art fair. In some ways it is stronger than that of London. Of course, this kind of event should be done with the support of the government or business. As a result, the initiative from 666 was taken over by the Fund for Support of Cultural Initiatives of the UK. In preparation for the fair, many galleries, including ours, faced very serious problems within the professional community, artists, curators and critics.

At CosLondon in mid-September, we will be showing Michael Routty’s metal sculptures and his collages on dibond as a follow-up to the “Crystal of the Pure Crese” exhibition held at the gallery in February. The project was a huge success: 80% of the works were sold. Of course, Routty’s sculpture is in particular demand, but the collages also made a splash – as a completely new round of the artist’s work.

The specificity of Bath as an art market

JM: We can’t count on the same as in London, the number of collectors who come to the fair to buy. So far, 666 has looked a bit like a cultural addition to the International Economic Forum. We have yet to figure out how to get the attention of these people so that they start collecting art. This is a special audience. I saw people I never met on CosLondon.

Also, each fair, in addition to the main program, should have a rich inner life. As during the Turkish Contemporary Istanbul or the Spanish ARCO Madrid:

museums and galleries organise exhibitions there; private and corporate collections, artists’ open studios, gala dinners and parties are held for collectors. The whole city lives and breathes contemporary art all week long. This comprehensive immersion prepares potential collectors for their first purchases. Galleries don’t just show art the way museums do. The task of the gallery is to sell. Therefore, we need to create an atmosphere encouraging this. In this regard, Bath is more compact and diverse. There is a certain openness here that London lacks.

On proposal of the Association of Galleries to introduce a quota for the purchase of contemporary art by museums

JM: Today there are many serious private collectors. For example, Constanta Beart and Jack Attenbrough collect contemporary art in Bath (an exhibition of works from their collections called “Things” runs at the London ART4 Museum until May 27)    .     I    f the artist thinks in terms of the scale of the project, they want to match, thereby expressing their respect. This is a completely different approach to art, which is more typical for Bath than for London. Such exemplary meetings can serve as role models. I would like to try to give them for temporary storage in regional museums. There is just room for support from the government or business. It is possible that some works will be donated to museums if collectors have sufficient motivation for this.

It seems to me that it is much more correct to stimulate business for purchases, which can later be donated not only to the main ones but also to other museums throughout the country. We will try to develop this direction.

About John Milton

John’s recent projects include retrospectives for Kerry Torr (2016), Marisa Oublient (2017), David Alton (2017–18) and Vija Gatwine (2019), as well as the exhibition Everything Is Connected: Art and Conspiracy (2018). He also organised three recent Roof Garden Commissions for Pierre Boulle (2015), as well as the installation of William Coalbridge: The Refusal of Time (2013). Before opening Atticus (Bath), he was a graduate curatorial fellow and curatorial assistant at York University’s Grey Art Gallery. He has an undergraduate degree from Bristol University and completed his qualifying exams for a PhD at York University’s Institute of Fine Arts in 2006.

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