EXCLUSIVE: Quantus Gallery, A Hybrid Approach to the Future of Art
The co-founders of London’s brand-new NFT art gallery sit down to share how they plan to change the perception of digital art from untenable to unmissable.
EDIT: Ryan Marsh is no longer a part of the Quantus Gallery team. We’ve made a handful of slight changes to the article to reflect this.
With NFTs encapsulating the cultural zeitgeist, it’s no surprise that physical NFT galleries are popping up all over the place.
Whilst the art community has enjoyed a vibrant online presence in recent years on platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, cultivating a career from the pursuit of digital art has proven much more difficult.
Josh Sandhu and James Ryan want to change that with Quantus Gallery – London’s first physical gallery for NFTs.
With backgrounds in graphic design, fine art and finance, the two have come together to create an exciting new approach that explores how art and technology can work together to create an immersive experience for collectors and enthusiasts alike – not just of art, but of NFTs too.
To understand the concept better, we sat down with Josh and James themselves to tell us more about their plans to reinvent the digital art world.
Jenz: Could you gives us a bit of background on yourselves, and how you came together to create Quantus Gallery?
James: Josh and I have worked together for a number of years at Grove Square Galleries. Across the last two years or so, I’ve been buying and selling art, and signing new artists to the gallery. No digital artists at all, just traditional stuff – anything from Banksy, Warhol and Picasso through to emerging talent in the art world.
Josh was talking to me for some time about NFTs – what he was up to, how it was different and how I should be considering it – and he was having a lot of success. It became apparent that there was a viable business model and market with the concept. We wanted to be the first gallery in Europe that had an advisory team – a team of people that were present to help educate the novices, and that is how we formed Quantus.
“People want to get educated. They want to be guided and they want to learn more.”
Josh: I’ve been in the crypto space for about ten or eleven years at this point. I’ve kept an eye on various projects and use cases, so when NFTs came up, the obvious path to prominence was digital art – which is how they became popular.
I remember having a conversation with James about ZED Run. He looked at me and thought I was mad – it is a bit mad; it was very mad at the beginning and it still is a little bit. A lot of people have been wrangling their heads around the concept of NFTs but because I’ve been experimenting with it, I thought it was kind of interesting.
I didn’t quite know it was going to get this big this quickly. I collect NFTs here and there, and have some really good ones I’m holding on to. One conversation led to another, and we made the decision last year to create a gallery for the NFT space, and so now, here we are!
What has the journey been like so far – both for the team and for the artists you work with – since Quantus was founded?
James: We had such a high volume of enquiries over the Christmas period – that’s when it really buoyed. People wanted to get educated, they wanted to be guided and they wanted to learn more. A large percentage of the novice enquiries that were coming through simply didn’t want to miss the boat; they didn’t want to miss the wave that they had perhaps missed with crypto.
There was a level of intrigue in the air, and so when people saw our ads, our sales team started to have some really good, positive conversations with people. Everyone was very receptive, and so we onboarded a lot of new clients in Q1 this year.
When we got the keys to the gallery, we refurbished it, put all of the equipment into service – the actual display screens and all of the security – then went live at the end of March. We were advertised fantastically by the likes of Sal and her team, and we’ve had a lot of interesting conversations since.
“More and more people feel that they need something tangible. We’re listening to what people want.”
Global art sales in January were as high as $12bil, and had risen further by June. We opened during a high in the market, and whilst the markets came crashing down, that hasn’t fazed us. We have a unique offering and a cohort of very small, yet stable artists that we work with and represent.
January to April were fantastic months, and from May onwards is when we’ve gone through a period of correction. We’ve spent that time expanding our team to get a real tech infrastructure. Our engineers are now building our own platform which will go live towards the late 2022/early 2023.
It’s important to point out that we’ve only ever worked with one digital artist so far. This is because the majority of the artists we’ve worked with are traditional artists moving into the digital space, and therefore any owner of the NFT receives the physical artwork as well. That de-risks the buying experience for them and builds proper utility, as opposed to some other projects out there.
Josh: I’m very familiar with the crypto market and it’s all very cyclical. NFTs are only slightly detached – it still follows closely at 80%-90%. Our inquiries and overall business has been reflective of the general market conditions.
With that said, because of our hybrid of traditional artists releasing physical paintings with an NFT component, we have more opportunities. We’re getting a team of animators to animate some of the works. That’s something a lot of people are interested in, but that’s what it’s all about with NFTs, providing utility and something additional.
More and more people feel that they need something tangible. Month by month, week by week, we are listening to what people want. As a gallery, that’s part of the whole process, where we look after artists, the team, and the direction they want to go in with us.
“We’ve got a lease on our physical premises for 7 years. We’re here to stay.”
James: We’ve certainly gone through the motions, to put it kindly. Right now, there’s a lot of global uncertainty – be it political, the environment, the economy, etc. – but we remain unfazed because we have quite a lean business model now. We expanded rather quickly, and have now stabilised from that.
The simplest way to put it is that we recognise that there’s a movement. NFTs are a movement – it’s the easiest way to explain it. I’ve got a background in art; it’s no different to street art – people either got it, or thought it was just another bubble.
We’re in this for the long term. That’s why we’ve got a lease on our physical premises for 7 years – we’re not looking for a quick buck or to sell the company quickly or anything like that. We’re here to stay for a good amount of time.
How do you think an in-person art gallery will impact the digital home of NFTs? Will it change the conversation?
James: We’ve had people react positively to the fact that we’ve got a physical space, but we’ve also had people that have reacted negatively. “Why are you doing this?” is a common question – after all, this is an online medium. The simple fact of the matter is, why should it be online only?
People nowadays, especially after COVID, want to get out and about. They want to go to events, they want to collaborate, they want a face-to-face meeting, they want a network and they want some kind of escapism.
It’s really easy to set up an online business – I see people setting up online businesses all the time. I see all kinds of schemes and scams, and the people that set these things up are not held accountable, and that can tarnish the industry.
“We’re coming into this as what it is. This is art. It’s no different.”
For us, we thought – well, let’s stand out ‘cause anyone can setup an online platform and turn the button off if things go wrong. We can be accountable – we have an open door policy, we can help to educate people on just what this sector is all about.
Even now, 99.9% of people still cannot fully explain what NFTs are. You have to educate this 99.9%, and you can’t do that only online.
We hold art tours every day which include our gallery as well as the area around it, which is known for its street art. Visitors understand that it’s a new movement, and you wouldn’t get that with an online-only business. We wanted to be unique – we wanted to stand out from the crowd.
Josh: What we’re trying to say by a having a physical space is that this is art. This is no different than a physical painting, and having that experience of walking around a physical space and having face-to-face interactions is super important to people.
At the beginning of last year, when we were just discussing the idea, the need for a physical space was everything. People can chat online, but it’s a very different experience to come in and have a chat face-to-face.
We’ve seen the rise of metaverse galleries as well, and that’s something that we’re going to do down the road. In some ways, we’re approaching this in reverse because of our background in fine art and galleries – but we’re coming into this as what it is. This is art. It’s no different.
We’re bringing in a different crowd as well. You’ve got people who are heavily invested in cryptocurrencies that are pretty clued up with NFTs, but the people who aren’t – how do you reach them?
If you have a physical space, they can come on down. We’ll be doing workshops. We’ll have a space for launch parties. When we talk about utility and community in real-life events, why not be at an NFT-focused space? It makes perfect sense. Why did we need a physical space? It was a real need.
What sets Quantus apart from both traditional galleries and other physical NFT galleries?
James: What sets us apart is that people can actually have an immersive experience with us. There’s always going to be different exhibitions and we’ve got all kinds of things in the pipeline.
When somebody comes for a tour of our gallery, it’s not just one tour and they’re out. There’s going to be all kinds of things such as AR, virtual reality, animation – everything that you can imagine to immerse the visitor is what we’re planning on building.
Also, because of the size of the building and the location that we’re in, we’re able to – you know, we’ve got a high foothold. Some people may go – “oh, you’re in this for the money”. I don’t know anyone who goes into business to lose money, but we haven’t borrowed any money from the bank, there’s no money from private equity, my Mom and Dad aren’t rich – my Mom’s a Nurse and my Dad works in Waste Management – we are hustlers.
“We always get complimented on the smell of the gallery. It smells like nice candles.”
We don’t really care about what people think of us. We have no loyalty – we’re here to literally shake things up and make sure that the NFT industry is one that stays.
Our team is full of passion and drive for what we’re doing. We have an experienced, high-level ex-MNC heading up our marketing, a strong social team, a great bunch of engineers, brilliant graphic designers and a stellar in-house squad.
Whether we have people walking in looking to understand more about the space, or artists wanting to understand how they can turn their ideas into reality, a member of our team will always be on-hand to help in any way, shape or form that we can.
Josh: When you walk into our gallery, we want it to be more of an experience. There’s always going to be music playing; we’ve got some great playlists to hand and we want people to interact.
We did an event with famed photographer Rankin where your phone would interact with the piece and give it a whole new dimension. We want those experiences.
James mentioned AR; even though Quantus is an art gallery, what sets it apart – even amongst other NFT galleries – is that whilst we are saying, “yes, this is art”, we want everyone who walks in to have more of an experience, and have someone on hand that they can have a conversation with. It’s more like a social event – we want people to just enjoy it.
James: Our doors are open – literally, we have them wide open – so people that walk past our gallery know that they can walk in whenever they want. The music is always on, it’s vibrant, it’s upbeat.
We even have the small touches like sofas where people can come sit and chill with a coffee. We had someone who was just reading their book there the other day – we don’t jump on them as soon as they’re in and try to sell them anything.
Oh, and we always get complimented on the smell of the gallery; it smells like nice candles. It’s quite a comforting space – that’s what we’ve striven to build.
Do you have any tips for collectors, new and experienced, on what to look for and what to avoid when purchasing NFT art?
Josh: My personal approach was to always look at NFTs as an asset, not necessarily as art, because the NFT space is split into two categories.
You’ve got the fine art side of things – Damien Hirst, other famous artists and the galleries who are representing said artists (people like us) – and the other side, where the art is almost secondary in nature. It’s less about the art itself and more about the community and the utility provided by owning that NFT. We’re talking about Bored Apes and projects of that nature, many of which are generative collections.
When I’m looking at these generative collections, I always analyse them as I would a stock because, effectively, a lot of them are emerging startup companies. You have to look at the team, the whitepaper if they’ve got one, and the realism of their roadmap – because anyone can promise anything.
“If people are asking questions and getting banned from Discord, consider taking a step back.”
Unfortunately, in the NFT space, there’s been some flashy looking projects that are just rug pulls – you hear about them every other day. It’s less of a problem now because people are more educated to spot them and the risk/reward isn’t as worth it in a bear market, but at its peak a few months back, it was crazy – absolutely crazy.
It’s always a case of looking at a project is and seeing whether it’s realistic and legitimate by how it interacts with its community. If people are asking questions and getting banned from Discord, or any similar red flags, consider taking a step back. Only put in what you’re comfortable losing.
On the fine art side of things, it’s the same as a traditional art gallery representing a traditional artist in my view. You’ve got the gallery – how are they representing their artists? Well, the reputation of the gallery itself is at stake, versus an individual artist with no connections. That’s what I’d say about the NFT side of things anyway.
James: As for the art, we always look for something that goes a step beyond, because there’s lots of talented people on this planet from all walks of life as we know, whether you’re sporty, techy, whatever.
There’s lots of talented artists out there but very few really make it. In order to make it in the past, the pre-requisites would be; where did you study, what qualifications did you get, what awards have you won, what collections are you in, where have you exhibited, how many shows have you had – all these things.
Whilst that still applies to a certain degree, what you also have now are self-taught artists that represent themselves. They create their own brand, they control that brand, they’re consistent on social media and they build up an organic and engaged following.
“Artists need to have a purpose and a story.”
It’s almost like a cult – the followers will bow down to that person. Any drop, any release that they have, they’re buying because they want to be a part of that club.
For us, when considering new talents, we want to make sure that their goals are aligned alongside ours, and that we can create accessibility into our transparent market.
The key is that the artist needs to have a purpose and a story. They need to know where they’re going. If they don’t know where they’re going, then we’re not really interested. We need them to tell us where they believe they’re headed, then we can help shape that.
What would you say to those still skeptical about NFTs?
Josh: It’s a case of showing that this isn’t different to traditional art. It’s a new medium, but the way that we’re approaching is the exact same approach as a traditional gallery.
There’s a lot of misinformation in this space, and with the market conditions, people are a bit more wary of where things are going. Ultimately, it’s about the offering that we provide as a gallery and how we can support the artists or those curious in buying a piece.
Part of that is helping people to understand what an NFT is. What we’ve found works best is to have a conversation in-person, where we’re able to explain everything properly. In our experience, that helps something to click in people’s heads, and they understand what NFTs are and where the value comes from.
“Where there’s disruption – whether in governments, banks or existing art galleries – tradition feels threatened.”
James: A lot of people said the same about Bitcoin, or the crypto world in general, so it’s quite easy to point them in that direction and say “look at what’s happened – did you have those same thoughts back then? What are your thoughts now?”
Where there’s disruption – whether in governments, banks or existing art galleries – tradition feels threatened. That’s because you’re taking a slice of the market away from them, therefore bad actors take this new opportunity to capitalise. Whilst there’s a lot of cowboys and scams taking place at the moment, equally, you can look at the amount of fraud that takes place with credit cards, bank scams, push scams and more – there’s something going on everywhere.
This is why we’ve given our clients’ actual physical works that will take our artists – especially the new artists – to new heights.
Where do you see the future of NFT art?
Josh: It’s gonna become easier. You won’t need to pay by crypto anymore; you can just use your card. If you see a piece of art that you like, it’s going to take a click of a button – that’s just improvements in accessibility.
For artists themselves, there’s been such an influx of new artists. Some of them are pushed by galleries – they just want to do something together – and we’re seeing collectives forming. At the start of this year, whether as a solo digital artist or one backed by a gallery, you were able to make a career out of art. That wasn’t something that was possible before the advent of NFTs.
Digital artists typically work for the FX and games industries, but they weren’t really aware of the ability to monetise their work on their own. As the market picks up, we’re going to see more and more high caliber industry veterans enter the space, and representing themselves.
There’s been a lot of backlash against NFTs, with climate concerns in particular being a major roadblock, but as this technology improves, a lot of those critiques and criticisms will fall by the wayside. By and large, a lot of them already have.
“All the big money is looking into NFTs – VCs, asset holding companies and more.”
As we saw at the beginning of the year when Damien Hirst did his thing, so did other traditional artists. I think we’re going to see many other artists follow his example. As the market increases, it will have both good and bad repercussions, but we’re going to see more artists get representation from galleries because it’s going to be harder for them to represent themselves in a crowded market.
It’s all about discovery. Unless you have your own seat or your own social media presence, you’re going to need to rely on your community or a collective, or fall back to gallery representation to find an audience.
Those are the general trends. Over the last few months, we’ve had so many great conversations with traditional artists looking to enter this space, and digital artists who have a lot of things cooking and are waiting for the right opportunity to maximise their visibility.
To add to that – last year, we saw the great auction houses get involved in NFTs; Christie’s, Sotheby’s and others. That’s going to continue. If I’m being pessimistic, I would say they potentially entered a little bit too early when it was a bit fresh, but they’ve made it work. You’ve got a lot of industry analysts – such as JP Morgan – saying that the crypto market is leaving the bear market behind as we speak, and projecting that the NFT market is going to bigger in two years time than its Q4 2021 peak.
All the big money is looking into it; VCs, asset holding companies and more. Auction houses, traditional galleries – we’re going to see more of them looking at digital artists as time goes on.
James: I started talking to a sculptor who is 76 years old, and she’s the Queen’s Royal Sculptor. You would think she’s set in her ways and not open-minded at all due to her age, experience and position – but she wants to move into NFTs because they’re unique, they’re different, and it’s where the market is going.
If you look at the big players in our modern life – Meta, Amazon, Twitter etc. – everything is online at the click of a button. High-streets are changing around the world, so it’s the case of needing a little more light education, not ramming NFTs down people’s throats. If you’re around for a sustainable amount of time, people will naturally become more educated and will start to make sense of it all.
However, because it’s the unknown, and the Wild West elements keep making the headlines, people are being dismissive and keeping at bay. The more mainstream things go and the more the big brands get involved, the more transparency there is and the more comfort people will have to part with their money and to take NFTs seriously.
“The cat’s out of the bag, and industry titans are moving to adopt it.”
Josh: Twitter has integrated NFT profiles pictures and Instagram are testing the ability to be able to buy an NFT with a single click. The cat’s out of the bag and the industry titans are moving to adopt it.
There’s a lot of negativity in the space, some of which is coming from certain contingents of the video game industry – but people have been buying virtual items in-game for well over a decade. The only difference is, if it was an NFT – like all applications of NFTs – the player would actually own the item they’ve bought.
Of course that’s not necessarily art, but I think the use case is fantastic. Gaming NFTs will continue to grow, and art NFTs will grow with them.
As NFTs continue to redefine the boundaries of artistic expression, the hybrid physical & digital approach allows artists to create tactile pieces that anyone can enjoy. I’m positive that we’ll start to see more digital assets in the flesh at museums, exhibitions and galleries around the world.
In addition to expanding the definition of art, physical NFT galleries open a powerful avenue to distribute digital art, crossing the boundaries between the traditional and the cutting-edge, and I’m thrilled to see teams working to harness this potential.
Or, as James and Josh say, have a nose at it by visiting the gallery at 11-29 Fashion Street, London to see it for yourself!