A political staffer on the Hill, a member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and a successful gallerist are just three of the titles Kurt Beers has held over the course of his professional life. Asked if he expected to be doing the latter of the three, the answer is a resounding no. “Absolutely not,” says Beers. “But that has been a part of the tapestry of my career: I tend to get bored easily and I am very curious by nature. I like a challenge and I like to try different things.” Sitting in his sleek gallery, Beers London, located a stone’s throw from Old Street Station in the heart of East London’s hipster Shoreditch neighborhood, it’s hard to picture Beers dressed in red serge. The eloquent gallerist and author of 100 Painters of Tomorrow is relaxed in his modern white-walled ofﬁce overlooking one of Shoreditch’s many winding alleyways. Beers London has been operating in one of the most competitive art landscapes in the world since 2010. A notoriously unwelcoming old boy’s club, where big-name galleries including the Saatchis, the Gagosians, and the White Cubes reign supreme, London’s market is anything but easy. So, it is impressive that a onetime wannabe politician from New Brunswick is running a respected international art program that regularly receives upwards of 4,000 applications for its annual “Contemporary Visions” exhibition.
Beers’s thirst for life experience led him out of Canadian politics in 2006, when he was working for the Minister of Public Works and Government Services. He realized he didn’t want to be a career political staffer and, having always been fascinated by the RCMP, threw his hat into the Mountie ring. After completing the lengthy application process, he moved to Regina for training prior to a posting in North Vancouver. Beers spent two years as a Mountie before his curiosity got the best of him again. “I always had a real itch to live beyond our borders,” he says. So he applied for a one-year communications master’s program at London’s City University, got accepted, and packed his bags.
Starting out in the Big Smoke, some of Beers’s only friends were young Canadian artists, including the now-celebrated painter Andrew Salgado, who at the time was also just making a name for himself in London. While working as a Mountie, Beers had helped Salgado promote a pop-up show in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, and once settled in London, continued to do pop-ups with friends in the city’s own East End. Momentum for the shows grew around the same time that Beers fell head over heels for London; after two years of living here, he wasn’t ready to leave. “So I applied for the [entrepreneurial] visa, opened the gallery, and the rest is history I suppose,” he reflects. “The lights are still on, and hopefully we are moving from strength to strength.”
For Beers London’s inaugural show, the gallerist landed Norwegian duo Lello//Arnell for their ﬁrst solo exhibition in the United Kingdom. Beers discovered the pair’s sculptural work—already popular in Norway—online, a platform he says has allowed his business to succeed in the closed-doors art world. Beers was blown away by Lello//Arnell’s work and ﬂew to Oslo twice to wine and dine them, visiting their studio on multiple occasions to eventually convince the artists to exhibit at his new gallery.
Starting his business with no collector base and zero backing, Beers worked hard to ﬁnd artists he believed in, never producing a show just for the sake of showing art. Many exhibitions later, his down-to-earth work ethic has given him an edge in the London art scene. While many gallerists suss out visitors the moment they enter the door, Beers’s starkly refreshing approach is decidedly come one, come all. “Let’s not kid ourselves: running an art gallery anywhere—let alone the city of London—can be a daunting task,” Beers admits. “I have read this week alone that there are two established galleries in our neighbourhood that are closing their doors forever.” This fragile marketplace is why he engages with each and every person who walks through his gallery’s doors. “On any one given day, of the hundreds if not thousands of galleries that there are in London, if that person has taken the time to walk through these doors to see our program and our artists, we are damn well going to get up and say, ‘Welcome to the gallery, here is the information, do you have any questions?’” Beers emphasizes. “Maybe this is where my outsider status has served me well, because at some of the other galleries you walk into, they look at you and think you are not a buyer, you are not a collector. I’ll not have it. Anyone is welcome here.”
The same principles apply when he is exhibiting at international art fairs such as Volta New York and Artissima Torino. While many galleries choose not to participate at all because of the expense and the risk (there are events where Beers hasn’t sold a single piece), he sees the international circuit as a core part of his business, even just to get its name out there. “We aren’t just sitting there on our laptops. I’m very stringent on that. We are standing and greeting people and interacting with the art,” he says. Both abroad and in London, Beers represents three Canadian artists other than his old friend Salgado: Kim Dorland, Andy Dixon, and Thrush Holmes. It’s good to see Beers celebrating the country that has granted him his outsider status—there is no doubt that it has contributed to his success in the London art game.