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

How does it feel to be a prominent young gallerist in the Swiss Art scene?

No clue? Then keep reading this interview to find out…

Banksy_Pulp Fiction

Street Art has definitely changed the urban landscape of cities all around the world, sometimes transforming them into open-air museums in their own right.

In a recent article from The Guardian, the journalist Maev Kennedy has written:

“If a piece by Banksy had appeared in the grand streets around Sotheby’s in Mayfair 10 years ago, it would have been removed as fast as the street cleaners could get there. Today it would be removed just as quickly, but to sell for a substantial sum on the open market.”

Banksy Retrospective @Sotheby's S2 in London (June 2014)
Banksy Retrospective @Sotheby’s S2 in London (June 2014)

Internationally renowned artists like Banksy are now sold in elite auction houses for prices up to 6-digits. Which seems a contradiction. But it gives exactly the idea of how much the Street Art scene has changed in the past decade. Street artists are now recognized as artists in their own right and galleries and auction houses are trying to win the most controversial and talented ones.

Yes – talented. Because there is a really thin line between being a socially engaged and outrageous artist and an angry teenager (or older) who takes it out on the city walls. We do not like that – do we?

So, astonished about the fact that Street Art can actually take many forms than just graffiti, I take another deep dive in this underground world to find this… an illustrated vocabulary of the main key terms of the Graffiti culture, which made my life easier and which could actually get me up-to-speed when talking about street… stuff.

I personally found that GENIOUS! (Thanks Mental Floss)

However, despite the fact that Street Art is cool and that it is attracting the attention of a bunch of collectors, people around actually knowing about it are still few.

Now – Julien Kolly is one of those few people.

Julien Kolly_profile pic
Julien Kolly in his Gallery in Zurich

When I went to visit him for our first interview, Julien greets me with is stripy Lacoste shirt and brightly colored Nike sneakers. All topped with heavy-framed glasses. Howdy!

In the dazzling white light of the gallery, he strikes me as a definitely creative character yet with a strong business-pro twist that makes him stand out.

While we shake hands and break the ice with some small talk, I find that not actually surprising – he is barely 35 and he is THE subject-matter expert when it comes to Graffiti and Street Art. The one and only in Switzerland. With a lot of drive and determination, he has realised his goals, by taking some chances and achieved exactly what he wanted. Not bad, huh?


But is this like in the movies? I want a reality check.

*A: You have a successful communication agency. You just opened a super stylish high-end gallery… you simply get what you want and make everything look really easy. Did you ever had any tough moments at all?

JK: Yes, I did. When I was planning to open the gallery, I worked on the plan for roughly one year. Before the actual opening, I had some tough moments, thinking whether that was the right path for me and the right strategic decision to make, as I was investing a great deal of my time in it and of my financial resources. But then I thought about the artists, about the work I had already done in Yverdon and about my role: I had to keep fighting for the graffiti artists in order for them to take their place in the society.

Wow… that IS a statement.

Kolly Gallery_interior overview
Kolly Gallery in Zurich (Seefeldstrasse 56)

*A: For being so young, you are an already quite accomplished business man. Have you done this completely on your own or has someone helped you out in some phases of the process of setting up the gallery?

JK: The idea was already very clear in my head, cause I knew what I wanted and I knew already what I was capable of. However, due to the “All-in” nature of this project, I got the support of a business coach, who has helped me setting up the business plan and to fine-tune the roll-out of the gallery opening. He is an experienced entrepreneur and I found his counseling really useful along the way.

Vernissage of MIST @Kolly Gallery (October 2014)

*A: And now the gallery is opened and you have already 7 vernissage (and corresponding exhibitions) behind your back. How do you see yourself in your role as gallerist?

JK: By promoting Street Art, I see myself engaged in the promotion of people doing graffiti… I simply help them doing what they want and living out of their art. Those shows they are able to realize will help them producing more works, thus initiating a “virtuous circle”. When they gain money, I am truly happy for them.

It really sounds to me that he is in between a gallerist and a patron. Which is something I am totally in love with, cause he does not just take a fat commission – he helps them growing and fulfilling their goals. And he totally looks like he means it.

*A: Street Art could take many forms and shapes. What is the rationale or philosophy behind the selection the works that you select for your gallery?

JK: Indeed I do have a specific approach when selecting works for the gallery, which is: I only select pieces that show positive emotions.  Works that are exhibiting feelings like pain, anger and frustration will not set foot in my gallery. This “positive” approach always guides my selection of works, no matter who the artist is.

TILT, Zahia Pink @Kolly Gallery
TILT, Zahia Pink @Kolly Gallery

*A: Is this why you like pink? Cause I also love pink and I even made it my corporate color!

JK: I like pink because is fun.

That was pretty much the end of the interview, as then an artist came in bringing his brand-new works, especially conceived for the gallery. With Julien’s blessing, I could stay there and witness the selection part of the process. What an exciting afternoon.

So folks, if you are still wandering where to go when it comes to Street Art… I would say now you have your answer. As Kolly Gallery definitely is the mecca of Street Art in Switzerland.

Kolly Gallery Logo

Kolly Gallery | Seefeldstrasse 56 | 8008 Zurich

Part I of this interview can be found here.

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