Innovation, passion and complementary characteristics are the hallmarks driving the success of Sydney commercial art gallery Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary, writes Angela Faherty.

    Commercial art gallery, Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary has been at the forefront of innovation in the art sector since it was first established in 2003. The gallery, located in Sydney’s central business district, represents artists from across the country and also showcases and builds exhibitions of contemporary artists from overseas.

    The business is the brainchild of art director Ralph Hobbs and managing director Raj Nanda. Originally trading under the name Art Equity, the business rebranded to Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary in mid-2015 to reflect the advisory nature of its owners as well as the representative nature of its gallery.

    In addition to showcasing exhibitions, Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary uses the internet to sell, curate and educate enthusiasts on how to collect and invest in art. It also offers services such as portfolio management, fine art valuations, income-generating investment structures and art rental services.

    Using the internet as a main driver for business may seem the norm in today’s technology-driven world, but the concept was revolutionary when Nanda and Hobbs first established their business model 14 years ago.

    “We came up with an idea of how art could be sold in the brave new world,” says Hobbs. “The internet was just starting to take hold, I was looking for a change and I liked the idea of the business of art, not just the making or history of art. It was an ideal opportunity to change direction.”

    Initially however, the concept of selling art online was confronted with scepticism. “When we first started, the ABC did a story on us and how the idea of selling art on the internet was crazy; it was considered a ridiculous notion that people would ever buy art in this way. We were told selling online was never going to work and that no-one was going to buy art without actually seeing it in real life,” he adds.

    Today, almost two decades later, the business is thriving. As well as a presence in Sydney, Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary also has offices in Singapore and London. Its presence in Singapore, an emerging arts hub, provides a gateway to the burgeoning Asian art market and means it is well positioned to advise clients on expansion of their collections to include leading artists and future talents from Southeast Asia.

    In contrast, its London advisory office continues to operate under the Art Equity brand and is focused on expanding its reach to the European and American markets by representing clients at auction or sourcing certain artworks on a mandate or retainer basis. Its clients are high-net-worth art collectors who value the advisory service Nanda and Hobbs provide.

    Widened Reach

    The growth of Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary proves its adoption of an innovative business model has paid off and that contrary to popular belief, the internet has in fact widened the reach and connections of global art enthusiasts.

    While having an online presence has certainly helped the business thrive in a technology-dominated world, Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary’s success is testament to the personal relationships and expertise that its owners have forged over the years.

    “Dealing art is all about relationships and that doesn’t change because we use the internet. It just means we have another way to communicate with the art world,” says Nanda.

    “The relationships we have formed over the years have meant that people trust us and see us as advisers. We have clients all around the world and quite often, if they are interested in an artist or work of art, then we will send them an email or text with an image and the business transactions are conducted entirely online. It is this premise that has helped us widen the market,” he says.

    The strength of these relationships coupled with their combined expertise has helped Nanda and Hobbs develop a uniquely successful business model and also learn from one another.

    Hobbs has more than 25 years of experience as an art dealer, artist, teacher and writer, while Nanda has a stellar investment banking background and a 30-year passion for collecting art.

    “I come from an investment banking background and I am used to very analytical processes, evaluating everything and looking at how things work,” says Nanda. “The art world is built on passion. It is very fluid, creative and not process driven at all. If I am honest, I found that really frustrating at first.”

    He continues: “The creative model is so different to what I had been previously exposed to, but one of the things I learned from Ralph very early on was that you cannot remove that passion if you are going to be in this industry. So over time, I have learned to understand each of our strengths.”

    Commercial Awareness

    Coming from an academic artistic background, Hobbs says he has learned a great deal about the commercial side of the business from his partnership with Nanda. “Raj is very good at handling extreme pressure, which is a skill acquired from his banking days. I’ve learned an enormous amount about business by coming into this commercial world. Raj has taught me about the risks associated with business and how to deal with those business risks while still being creative.”

    While still driven by passion and gut feeling, Hobbs says he has learned more about structure and discipline when approaching new projects.

    “While something might seem like a great idea, it isn’t a great idea if we end up losing money and everyone involved ends up dissatisfied. I’ve definitely learned that there needs to be an element of structure. It could be the most fun idea in the world, but if it isn’t thought through properly it could end up shambolic from lack of planning,” he says.

    A key component in the Nanda\Hobbs Contemporary business model is education; a central tenet that will remain an integral focus over the next few years as the business looks to continue its global reach.

    Currently, the business provides institutional gallery tours, lectures, collecting and investing seminars, artist talks and studio visits and more recently started to offer online education services with the launch of its Art Guide Series, an idea that it plans to evolve over the next year.

    “Over the next 12 months there will be a series of six to eight guides on a range of subjects such as how to invest in art and how to hang a piece of art. All the important bits and pieces that people need to know,” says Hobbs.

    “Art is one of those things that people will never stop learning about,” he adds. “You will never know everything. There will always be new artists, or new people doing something in a different way.

    “Art is a collegiate thing; there are the people who work in the business, the artists who are part of the business and the collectors who form another part of the business. This is always evolving, and we want to continue to be at the forefront of that. This is a multi-billion dollar industry. There are always people out there collecting and looking at art, it is just a matter of how we get to them,” he says. 

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