Nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac of terraced houses and moments away from the hustle of Notting Hill Gate is London’s first anti-gallery and fine art photography collective, heist. Before speaking with Mashael Al-Rushaid, a savvy businesswoman with an ardent passion for art, I am given a guided tour of the incredibly thought-out space.
Beyond a Regency-columned exterior and through the black-lacquered door, I climb the carpeted steps to find the immersive art space that combines sculpture, photography and bespoke interiors. Spearheaded by Al-Rushaid, heist. offers an alternative to the conventional art gallery. We sit down to chat about the gallery’s first year in business, commodification and why art is important.
Jamal George-Sharpe: How did you enter the art world and come to create heist.?
Mashael Al-Rushaid: I actually worked in private equity, then publishing and then film. I worked on a documentary before I worked here. Then I came across this couple [Edmiston and Lubinus] who started an online platform for emerging photographers. It was an editorial platform, so it wasn’t a gallery per se. We met up and I got inspired.
At that point, I [had] stopped going to exhibitions, even though I was a collector, because I felt it was quite a stark and non-inclusive environment; In the sense that there was only one greater understanding of what is good art and what is bad art and how you look at something. There is kind of this select society in the art world and they only know the right answers. If you come off the street and just walk into a gallery there’s this sense that for one - especially in Europe I find - you’re either not welcome if you’re not going to buy something or if you’re not within this specific circle, [then] you don’t know what you’re talking about.
I wanted to create a space that I also wanted to experience, where art was more inclusive and there is no right or wrong answer to anything. It should be personal. I think one thing galleries do forget, because art has become so commodified, is that we buy art – well, I hope we buy art - to live with it. No one’s home looks like White Cube Gallery. So I thought of hosting a gallery in a residential property and every eight weeks, recreate the space inspired by the artwork on the wall. You don’t have to explain to people or tell them what makes something great to facilitate the connection formed between the artwork and spectator or to have a greater understanding of the feel of the work itself and the intention of the artist.
JG-S: What were the initial stages of creating this space?
MA-R: There were many stages. For a year, it started as an online platform that didn’t sell art. It was solely editorials. The bulk of the following we had were only fine art photographers, which was great because we had a database of people that we could contact if we were interested in their work. Then, literally a year after, we started finding a space and, six months after looking, we opened this last June.
JG-S: Were there any spaces or artists that acted as inspirations for heist.?
MA-R: Well - a little bit, I guess. One thing that inspired me is when I lived in the [United] States for a while. I used to host dinners with people, not necessarily like-minded but people from different industries or creative industries. We’d host a creative industry dinner where you’d have a specific topic. We’d invite a writer, a philosopher, an artist and all kind of have an interesting dialogue about different perspectives on what we saw.
I was inspired in a superficial sense - not literal, because I don’t think it’s anything like it - but a bit from the factory kind of environment; the way in which it was this commune of people that walk in and out. People creating art in different corners of the room and at the same time have – well, you’d hope the factory was like that, but it wasn’t - have interesting conversation, where you can garner insight from other people and be inspired. I wanted to create a space that felt like that.
JG-S: What were some of the challenges?
MA-R: A lot! Artists are very emotional and you have to be very patient. I think part of being a gallerist is also being a psychiatrist. If the artist is not happy, comfortable or secure in where he is, he’s not going to perform or produce. So I think that was definitely a struggle. Especially in my specific case - I have a platform online and the physical space, so I’m dealing with at least 100 artists, so it’s a lot. A lot of people to please. I try my best. I don’t always succeed at that and I feel very bad, but I try!
Another thing that is kind of difficult is the logistical aspect of things. Last minute artwork that is damaged or is delivered damaged or doesn’t arrive. Like two days ago, I was supposed to receive artwork for a client who bought six pieces and someone picked it up. Someone signed for it at DHL and it wasn’t me! So there are these little things, you know. Obviously finding the right team is quite difficult in setting up any business. Finding the right people who are not only committed because they are organised and professional, but have a heart in something. I think it is really important when you have a start-up, or anything that’s out of the box, is to have people who believe in it as much as you do. So that they’re as invested in everyday as much as you.
JG-S: What makes heist. an anti-gallery?
MA-R: It’s an anti-gallery in the sense that it is in a residential space. It is a gallery - I can’t say that it isn’t. But the “anti-ness” is referring to the culture of the ‘White Cube experience’. heist. is a space that is more inclusive and where people don’t feel like they need to buy art to be here. Also a space that’s inspiring - not so stark and white and elitist.
For more information, visit www.heist-online.com.
Words: Jamal George-Sharpe
Image source: heist.