#StreeArt and the Expert: meet #JulienKolly, the man who has transformed the street into a first class, high-end gallery (Part I)

It has been one of the global cultural phenomena of the past two decades, increasingly attracting public attention of passers-by, collectors and auctioneers. But what is exactly Street Art and why has been attracting this load great deal of attention?

Tilt_Lips_Kolly Gallery


*artemporary has taken a walk on the coolest, most underground and groundbreaking hipster side of Art, with the help of an expert matter, Julien Kolly, Graffiti and Street Art expert and CEO & Founder of Kolly Gallery.

Due to the lengthy nature of the article, this interview will be divided into two parts.

Ready for the walk? Then brace yourself and read carefully….



It’s a Saturday morning in Zurich, one of those in early September charged with a promise of winter in the air. I am a wee bit nervous while I pull on my favorite uniform – black slacks, white tee and tuxedo jacket – to meet a guy I only heard of. A young folk from Fribourg who has recently opened a gallery in the super chic and exclusive Seefeld area in Zurich. An art gallery specialized in Graffiti and Street Art.

Street Art. In Zurich Seefeld. Seriously?!

As I like to do my homework in advance, I make a self-assessment and ask myself what do I really know about Street Art and graffiti culture – besides Banksy.

So, as any diligent student would do, I start doing my research – starting from the basis. What is Street Art?

After browsing few websites of arguable academic reliance, I decide Wikipedia gives the most satisfying definition:

„Street art is visual art created in public locations, usually unsanctioned artwork executed outside of the context of traditional art venues. The term gained popularity during the graffiti art boom of the early 1980s and continues to be applied to subsequent incarnations. Stencil graffiti, wheat pasted poster art or sticker art, street installation or sculpture are common forms of modern street art. Video projection, yarn bombing and Lock On sculpture became popularized at the turn of the 21st century.“ (Source: Wikipedia)

Banksy Graffiti Art On West Bank Barrier


… And so I ask myself: isn’t the whole concept of Street Art Gallery a living contradiction? Better ask the expert.

JK: No, of course not. The duration of works on public walls, streets, train or tunnels is really variable – from one day to many years, also depending on external conditions and human intervention. You never know when that work will cease to exist. Therefore conservation, when establishing a gallery focusing on Street Art, automatically becomes the first goal.

I understand that to Julien is simply vital that all the artists represented by his gallery have collected years of experience on the ground and possibly quite few fines. Street artists operating on their “natural” canvas, the streets, have the choice to produce something that comes from the street but is made for the gallery, that is charged with the experience and knowledge of the artist and brought to a “closed” place, where it will be preserved and eventually sold.

*A: How did you become interested in Graffiti and Street Art?

JK: It was 1991 and I was 12 years old. I saw graffiti every day when I was commuting by train and they created a sort of “movie”. I found that fascinating. Then, together with a friend, I started taking pictures of graffiti along the train lines around Fribourg and then moved to Lausanne and Geneva until all the way to Zurich. That was the beginning of it. In the period from 1993 and 2000 I scouted all the graffiti artists I came across and interviewed them.

JonOne_Kolly Gallery


Julien explains me that those were years of deep changes and revelation in the Graffiti world. In 2000, the Urban Discipline show in Hamburg rocked the Street Art scene, demonstrating that “some graffiti are different from others”. In 2002 the MoMA in New York launched its project with Banksy (still an unknown character to the world at large) and in 2006 the first solo show was dedicated to the first Swiss Street artist DARE with 20+ experience, which was an absolutely extraordinary event in CH.

*A: What happened then? Did you become a gallerist?

JK: No. Back in 2005, I founded my communication agency, 29 Degrees, which was officially incoporated as GmbH in 2007. During the same period, in 2006, I also started GT29 Gallery, a temporary theatre where Red Bull was acting as sponsor of the vernissages for the street artists exhibiting there. This project went on until 2010.

In 2008 however, the crisis started and many artists (even in the most conventional sense of the word) could not find places willing to show their works or space where they could exhibit them. So I came up in 2009 with a gallery in Yverdon-les-Bains for artists in “distress”, called La Grille. The concept was very simple: I was paying the expenses of the studio and not charging the commission a gallerist is usually entitled to when selling the works of the artists he represents. I was only charging a small commission that would allow me to cover the fixed costs without making a profit. The artist had to give me a visual I could print. Then, I sold this print to cover all the expenses. I sold print worldwide through Internet. Which was totally ok with me cause I was trying to help them out. I know all the artists I represent personally, none excluded. The gallery hosted from 2009 until early 2014 a total of 40 shows, featuring 50 different artists.

*A: Yverdon-les-Bains is a small town in the middle of nowhere. Were you able to attract people?

JK: Yes. I was so specialized that people were coming to the shows from all parts of CH and beyond. The shows were really popular and very well known in the underground graffiti and street art scene. We hosted really interesting events there, and artists were actually able to sell their works. People were coming to Yverdon cause they wanted to see and also buy. It was a cool project.

*A: So why did you stop? Did you get bored?

JK: No. But I after that experience I decided to open my own gallery. In Zurich. And so did I.

I opened Kolly Gallery at the beginning of 2014, hosting my first show with JonOne on the 27th February. Since then, I have had 6 shows and Mist will be the 7th.

Kolly Gallery_event
Kolly Gallery, Zurich


Interview @Artemporary (Carmela Tfr)
Pics: Courtesy of Julien Kolly Gallery | Banksy Pic: download from web
All Rights Reserved

——————————————————End Interview Part 1.—————————————————–

MIST (F) | HELVET UNDERGROUND | 16. October – 15. November 2014

Kolly Gallery | Seefeldstrasse 56 | 8008 Zurich

Vernissage: 16. October 2014, h 18.00

The Artist will be at the Gallery during the Vernissage. For more info visit Kolly Gallery’s website.

MIST_Vernissage 16102014