New way to buy art pops up on Sussex Drive

Work by the Los Angeles-based photographer Ryan Schude will be on view.

EYE BUY ART’s sudden appearance in Ottawa is an example of one thing makes the gallery unique, says owner Emily McInnes.

“Our business model allows us to be nimble, experimenting with innovative strategies that enhance our digital presence, with projects that take place in the physical world,” McInnes says, as she hangs the art in her pop-up gallery, which is starting a four-month run at the former Sussex Contemporary Gallery. “So my mindset is already about having flexibility, and what works for the artist too.” 

The Sussex gallery closed very recently and McInnes’s bilateral business model — straddling the digital and physical worlds — allowed her to move quickly on the opportunity.

“I first got wind of this space in May, and met with the team two weeks ago,” she says. “I don’t stick to the traditional four walls. We can be flexible in what we show, and where.”

What EYE BUY ART will show in Ottawa is “over 2,000 square feet of new work, including one-of-a-kind paper cut-outs by Ontario artist Becky Comber, floated paint shadowboxes by Ottawa painter Heidi Conrod, (and) limited edition and large-scale photographs by Toronto photographer Kristin Sjaarda.” A last-minute addition is work by Los Angeles-based photographer Ryan Schude.

Works by Toronto photographer Kristin Sjaarda are on view too.

It’s not McInnes’s first pop-up, but “it’s my first pop-up in Ottawa. My most recent pop-up previous to this was a six-week show at the BMO Tower, in the Financial District in Toronto. My formula is to look for partnership spaces with high-traffic and in the right location.”

The Sussex Drive gallery is close enough to the new Ottawa Art Gallery and its “great buzz,” she says. She also sees a confidence in the city’s art scene “that is so justified.” And further, “Not just the art scene, but buzzy restaurants, cafes — cool projects of all kinds are happening here. Plus, I think I saw the prime minister drive by this morning.”

EYE BUY ART is its own kind of cool project. McInnes launched it as at the end of 2009 with a “simple” idea, to “make art affordable so more people can own it.”

The idea is rooted in McInnes’s past in Ottawa, where she grew up as the child of the well-known art collectors and benefactors Barb and Glenn McInnes.

“My parents are senior hipsters,” she says. “They were listening to Arcade Fire before most people I know, and are always exposing themselves to brilliant contemporary art, out-of-the-ordinary travel experiences, and off the beaten track little nuggets of life. This is how they are now, and this is exactly what I grew up with.” 

She decamped to Toronto to be creative director of the CONTACT photo festival, and later co-founder/director of the Flash Forward festival of the “best new image makers from Canada, the U.S. and the U.K.”

Along the way the idea for EYE BUY ART began to coalesce.

“I felt there was a gap in the marketplace, and in what we were doing, where we needed to make it easy to buy work from these young, emerging photographers,” she says. “We are in the age of the artist as entrepreneur, and so they are also innovating in their own right, as well, and I think the traditional gallery structure is becoming too boxed in for a lot of people.”

She began by taking two works from an artist’s series and selling multiples of them through her online gallery. Now “the formula has evolved . . . to include people like Heidi Conrod from Ottawa, where there is a cross-over with photography, to working with pieces that are single edition,  or where I see work that is just flat out amazing.”

She’s also expanded into a physical space in Toronto’s gallery district, though it “doesn’t function at all like a typical commercial space. . . I figure, I started this thing, and I can make up the rules.”

EYE BUY ART’s first Ottawa pop-up is open to September at the Sussex gallery, 531 Sussex Dr.

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Peter Simpson, a native of Prince Edward Island, was arts editor and arts editor at large for the Ottawa Citizen for 15 years, with a focus on the visual arts. He lives in downtown Ottawa with one wife, two cats and more than 100 paintings, drawings and sculptures.