Fotografiska Ellen von Unwerth New York

Grandlife guide

Fotografiska Opens in New York

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The multi-level photography destination opens with an exhibition of work by Ellen von Unwerth. Co-founder Jan Broman gives us the lowdown. 

Fotografiska, a multi-level photography venue has opened in New York after ten years of success in Stockholm. With three floors dedicated to museum exhibition space, a restaurant, VIP lounge, and retail store, Fotografiska brings to New York City a new model of an experiential, photographic destination. In the weeks leading up to the opening, GrandLife sat down with co-founder Jan Broman to discuss this ambitious project and what he sees for the future of Fotografiska.

What made you decide to open Fotografiska in New York?

Jan Broman: As we started to look at where we should go in the world there were three cities that stood out: New York, London, and Shanghai. New York is the capital of the world, London is the capital of art, and Shanghai is the most trendy city in China. New York is the first one to open. We’ve had a lot of success in Sweden and have been open for ten years in May. We are a go-to place in Stockholm.

Can you talk about how the artists you will be showing in New York for the inaugural exhibitions were selected? 

JB: The mix is a different type of photography and we will open with five exhibitions. Our philosophy has always been that you need to reset your mind [when moving between exhibitions] because if you are seeing something similar that is aligned with what you just saw previously, it will lose you. For us, it’s really important to mix the type of photography that you will encounter.

We are working with Amanda Hajjar, the director of exhibitions for Fotografiska New York, who was formerly artist liaison at Gagosian Gallery, and also closely with the artists and independent curators as well as our a global team and exhibition committee who meet every three months. They all help decide what artists we should look for and then the global team helps narrow down the selections. Everyone plays a role in the artists we work with as we are a small team. 

This is such a different space for New York and it will be all-inclusive in many ways. You will have a full-service restaurant, a retail store and extensive exhibition space, not to mention late hours…

JB: We have to create spaces where you can meet yourself, meet your friends and also see art. That said, it means we need to provide spaces where you can sit and chat….Giving people opportunities to relax and also commune with others.

Typically, galleries shut down at 6 o’clock and that means that neighborhood dies. I would imagine that it is really hard to run a restaurant in these areas [such as Chelsea], which are also not usually in the city center but on the periphery. We are looking forward to welcoming people to the restaurant but also the after-dinner crowd, who might be interested in drinks or an after-hours experience. In New York, will we will be open until 11 pm on most days and until 2 am on later days, most likely Thursday through Saturday. The experience we offer is unique on a global level. 

The retail store will also be a cafe, and while the menu will be limited in comparison to the restaurant, I saw the menu earlier today and it looks very nice. The food will not be Swedish but catered to the local palette and aligned with the city. It’s our idea that the first floor will also turn into a wine bar at night. We hope that most of the guests of the restaurant will also be guests of the museum as they will operate independently. Here you will be able to have a glass of wine but also a cultural experience.

I love that concept, the idea of meeting yourself. It’s funny because New York is referred to as the ‘city that never sleeps’ but in reality, a lot of it does! So much closes down, specifically regarding museums and galleries. 

JB: A lot of the city sleeps, some things stay open, but in European standards, a lot shuts down early. 

How do you and your brother, who is a co-founder, define your roles?

JB: My brother operates the Stockholm venue, and I will be back and forth between New York and Stockholm. We have a great team in New York, such as Geoffrey Newman, who will serve as a general partner and operate the space here. Fotografiska is a museum-style venue, and work will not be for sale. We do temporary exhibitions and work with artists from all over the world. 

Without the galleries being complete yet, can you give us a hint of what to expect regarding how work will be installed? 

JB: We have a short timeframe between exhibitions, so we don’t necessarily work with freestanding walls but rather fixed walls and what we have. This aids us in being able to turn exhibitions around fast. We also work with dark space and highly controlled light so we can create an individual experience between the viewer and each piece of art, allowing for someone to feel included in what they are looking at. When we started ten years ago, we couldn’t find the right lamps and when my architect called me, he had found someone from the north of Sweden, and that became the source that we use for our lights.

In the past ten years of Fotografiska, have you had a favorite artist that you’ve worked with or exhibition?

JB: The next one! [laughs] Of course one has favorites, but I’m always thinking about what we will show next while also being present in the day.

Fotografiska New York is located in the Flatiron district at 281 Park Avenue South at 22nd Street.

WORDS Katy Diamond Hamer

PHOTOGRAPHY Ellen von Unwerth, Bathtub, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss (for Vogue US),1996. Courtesy Fotografiska 

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