LONDON – “I met her through a dating app … I met her in a pub,” said Ellie Pennick, 24, director and founder of Guts Gallery, remembering on Friday how she discovered some of the young artists whose works they sold a pop-up space near Carnaby Street during the debut edition of London Gallery Weekend.

Pennick, who describes herself as a “working-class queer northerner with no art background,” was one of more than 130 London traders to host live exhibitions during this three-day community initiative from June 4-6, aimed at providing fresh impetus the UK capital’s contemporary art scene after months of lockdowns caused by the coronavirus.

Unable to afford the fees to study sculpture at London’s Royal College of Art and frustrated by the prevailing systems of the art world, Pennick said she had chosen to become a nomadic trader who attended pop-up shows and uses the internet to nurture unusual new talent.

“I looked at the business model and found that the biggest cost factor was space. So I thought I’d take this out, ”said Pennick. Her participation in the Gallery Weekend was supported by the renowned London dealer Sadie Coles, who made a small shop in Soho available to her.

Pennick exhibited 10 works by artists she “masters” (she prefers to use the term “represent”). Seven of these were sold at the opening on Friday, led by “6 Red Chillies,” an expressionist self-portrait by London-based Saudi Arabian artist Shadi al-Atallah. This mixed media painting was purchased from a London collector for £ 8,500, or about $ 12,000.

Gallery weekends, which encourage art lovers to wander from showroom to showroom across the city, have become a winning formula for dealers in places like Berlin and Zurich, which, unlike London, don’t host the major art fairs and auctions that which in the past were magnets for international visitors.

But the double blows of Brexit and the pandemic have damaged London’s position as the capital of the European art market. According to Pi-eX, an art market research firm, 12-month sales at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s in London were $ 1.7 billion at the end of May, $ 1 billion less than in 2019. Some well-known galleries in the City have closed and travel restrictions are threatening to turn an international fair like Frieze London in October, if it happens at all, into a scaled-down event.

Jeremy Epstein, co-founder of London Gallery Weekend, said, “Galleries and artists needed to update their relationship with their audiences.” He acknowledged that local rather than global audiences would attend the event, but said he hoped they would in the future will be just as important an attraction for international collectors as the dealer exhibitions that coincide with the Frieze.

Judging by the exhibitions on display, North American artists still view London as an important gateway to recognition – and acquisition – in Europe. Painting, especially figurative painting, dominated, as is currently the case at major international auctions.

White Cube donated its central London gallery to an exhibition of 20 recent works by Brooklyn-based French artist Julie Curtiss, whose surreally stylized female figures, often focused on shoes and hair, sold for more than $ 400,000 at auction .

The centerpiece of the exhibition, Curtiss’ first in London, was a round canvas from 2021, “Le Futur”, which shows uncomprehending figures on a river bank, the Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” updated.

On a rainy Friday morning, the White Cube show drew a steady stream of local visitors, including Patsy Prince, a London-based actress and collector.

“It was a nightmare. We’re starved, ”said Prince. “I can no longer look at art online. I want to smell it. I want to taste the creativity. That is not possible with zoom. “

Curtiss’ paintings ranged from $ 40,000 to $ 170,000, and all of them had found buyers, according to Paul Garaizabal, a sales director at White Cube.

Jaclyn Conley, a Canadian figurative painter based in New Haven, Connecticut; Leidy Churchman, a Maine-based painter whose work is steeped in Buddhist philosophy; and Alvaro Barrington, a multimedia artist based in New York and London, born in Venezuela and influenced by rap culture, are all names that have not yet made a huge impact at auctions. But their works have been exhibited in prestigious museums, and this fact appeals to buyers who want to be one step ahead of the market curve.

New works by Conley, whose paintings were collected by Barack and Michelle Obama, have been offered multiple times at the Skarstedt Gallery in central London. Not far away, the Rodeo Gallery found buyers for all 12 of their Churchman 2020 paintings. Over in East London, Emalin had buyers for all 12 of his new Barrington works that had been created during the London lockdown and featured paintings in sculptural concrete frames with rap lyrics. Prices at these shows ranged from $ 12,000 to $ 95,000. Most of the works were acquired from buyers who had not seen the pieces in person. “People have become more relaxed about buying JPEGs,” said Katy Green, London rodeo director.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, works of such coveted names could potentially have sold out every gallery weekend, even if they were housed in much smaller outposts of the art world. So where is London?

The British capital is a very large city with a large number of traders scattered over a wide area. Unlike more compact centers like Berlin, Zurich or Paris (which hosted a similar event last week), London is not a city that lends itself to the gallery trail format. But in reality, like so much that is happening in the art market now, these events have become live digital hybrids.

“Most of the sales are online. Even our London collectors buy online, ”said Krittika Sharma, co-founder of Indigo + Madder, a group of new galleries that have sprung up over the past two years in the Deptford area of ​​southeast London, not far from Goldsmiths studied by famous British contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst.

By the Saturday of London Gallery Weekend, Indigo + Madder, which specializes in contemporary art from South Asia and its diaspora, had sold 10 of 13 multimedia paintings created during the lockdown of London-based artist Haroun Hayward. Influenced by 20th century electronic music, African and Middle Eastern textiles, and English landscape painting, these meticulous, eclectic paintings cost between £ 3,950 and £ 650. One sold to a Swiss collector.

Hayward said he was optimistic about London’s ability to remain a vibrant artistic hub.

“I got kicked out of two studios by developers,” said Hayward, who now works from home in East London. “But London is pretty wild. It will always have a punk streak. The children make it, but not in the places we know. “