The Unlikely Offspring of Uncertain Times: Doyle Wham
The art dealer has a somewhat unfortunate reputation.
Owing to the almighty explosion of the art market in recent decades the high stakes game of selling something both priceless and valueless has come under the mainstream spotlight… and the glare is not always flattering.
Often-eccentric dealers who finesse billionaire clients, have wacky trademarked looks and speak in a sales language designed to disorientate, have become – perhaps complicity – objects of parody. Being an art dealer is now a sort of art in itself. But what does their performative razzle dazzle mean for the actual art they represent? And couldn’t it be time for a more down-to-earth and honourable rendition of the dealer?
Meet Sofia Carriera-Wham and Imme Dattenberg-Doyle, the duo behind new gallery Doyle Wham, and our antidote to the art scene charade. They are refreshing, natural and welcoming. The two met at secondary school, and have nurtured a shared ambition alongside their friendship of over a decade. Though they both studied art adjacent subjects, they found the notion of actually running a gallery an impossible pipe dream.
Yet when the pandemic hit the art world was catapulted into unfamiliar territory, and all of a sudden, the notoriously treacherous art terrain became a level playing field. Since the only way anyone could exhibit was online, Sofia and Imme realised their goal was unexpectedly in reach. And so, Doyle Wham, contemporary African photography gallery, was born.
‘People were like, “a gallery in a pandemic? That’s the worst idea ever,”’ laughs Imme, but Sofia notes how the pandemic opened opportunity: ‘At that moment in time when you were offering an online exhibition, no other gallery could offer them more.’
Before Doyle Wham came to exist, Sofia and Imme would send back photographs they loved on Instagram back and forth, so that when it came to actually approaching artists all they needed to do was scroll back through their DMs.
Perhaps this will strike many as a prosaic comment, but it reveals more than you might think. Imme and Sofia are true enthusiasts whose curatorial choices filter through a prism of genuine interest, bordering on fan-girl worship. In the future, this authenticity is bound to set them apart from margin-driven scouts at corporate-run galleries.
The majority of their artists were approached via Instagram. Yannis Davy Guibinga, who has nearly 60,000 followers, is one example. ‘We’re always learning about artists through artists we already know. It’s such a large, supportive community,’ Sofia tells us.
As much as we think of social media as a repository for the repetitive, commercial, and for copycat imitations, there is clearly a space for fine artists to unite across the globe in a more wholesome pocket of Instagram. The niche of contemporary African photography allowed Doyle Wham to approach artists who are significant within the field, and offer them representation on the much-coveted London art scene without the associated gallery costs.
In their most extensive exhibition to date, set in a Grade II listed mansion, 14 Cavendish x Doyle Wham debuted works by Aïcha Fall, Yannis Davy Guibinga, Morgan Otagburuagu and Shitanda in physical form. Against the backdrop of the stripped Georgian-style property the full energy of the works seemed to spill out of the frames to bewitch the onlooker.
There have already been memorable moments. At the Young Artist’s Summer Show at the Royal Academy a young girl created a portrait of her friend and credited Morgan Otagburuagu as her greatest inspiration, having seen his work on social media as part of Doyle Wham’s debut exhibition online.
‘We contacted the Royal Academy, asked for their details and then invited her and her friend to 14 Cavendish. They were 16, just had their results day, and when they came, we video called Morgan all together. It was so sweet,’ recalls Sofia.
It’s interactions like these that highlight the importance of art being made accessible. The virtual landscape removes the strain of leases and other costs for artists, while for the public, many of whom might not think of themselves as art-lovers, social media is a gateway to a new passion.
Doyle Wham have no intention of limiting themselves. Their next exhibition will be a presentation of two female African photographers and a collective of female creatives, in collaboration with Latitudes, a Johannesburg-based art agency and marketplace. It will showcase a variety of photographic mediums spanning three decades.
The ego of the dealer could become a thing of the past if Imme and Sofia are the prototype for new entrants in the industry. Without all the surrounding pageantry, we might actually get a chance to appreciate the art.