Bringing fine art into focus

Cayman has a new fine art establishment with the recent opening of the Morgan Gallery in the Galleria Plaza.

The 1,200-foot gallery, run by the husband and wife team of Geraldine Morgan and Steve Byars, is part of the mall’s post-Ivan renaissance.

The couple, who both left high-flying jobs in the UK to pursue their dream of running their own gallery, had been visiting Cayman for a decade before moving here last August.

Their former careers in the electronics industry, though light years away from their current venture, gave them the chance to collect art during frequent business trips across Europe and Asia.

Those trips not only gave them sufficient downtime to collect overseas art, they equipped the couple with an impressive array of arts contacts on both continents.

And before one assumes the couple are simply naïve hobbyists, think again. The two applied the business sense needed in their former jobs to commission and undertake research before committing to a venture which meant a change in country and profession.

‘Four or five years ago we started looking around at Cayman, the British Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos for starting up a gallery, before choosing here,’ said Geraldine.

Their decision to relocate from Wales and set up the Morgan Gallery on Seven Mile Beach was equally well thought out.

‘We looked at Harbour Place, which was offered to us last year, but the… fact that it attracted mainly cruise shippers during the week wasn’t what we were looking for, since they’re mostly interested in local art and art prints,’ said Steve.

In fact the downtown waterfront malls were not attractive propositions. The couple said they were put off a more central location by the high turnover of merchandise such premises seemed to require and the lack of sufficient downtown parking.

Location, location

For these reasons a Seven Mile Beach premises was always high on their wish list.

Helped by Ivan, premises soon became available and the Galleria Plaza, it seemed, was an obvious choice.

‘There are huge levels of investment into this part of the island such as the Ritz Carlton, and condos like the Meridian and developments such as Caymana. All of these will need furnishing… The kinds of individuals interested in such properties expect to see this kind of art offering,’ said Steve.

The gallery itself has a contemporary air about it, its clean lines and understated elegance exude exclusivity and refinement. And with art work at prices ranging between CI$1,500 and CI$10,000 it’s not surprising that they see as potential clients the owners of the high-end condominiums which dot Seven Mile Beach as well as businesses keen on replenishing their art stock.

‘We are catering to those who own businesses and homes on-island who want art to enhance their environments with something a little bit different,’ remarked Steve.

And as far as the owners see it, there simply isn’t another gallery on Grand Cayman that caters to that particular niche.

‘Our proximity to the Kennedy Art Gallery isn’t a big issue. Both malls are owned by ADAIR Holdings, which wouldn’t have leased the space to us if they considered it a conflict of interest,’ suggested Steve.

‘In fact they (Kennedy Gallery) sell high-end local with some US art and do framing and prints… We (on the other hand) deal only in original paintings and mixed media work from predominantly Europe and Asia because that’s what we know,’ Geraldine added.

Artists

In commissioning market research prior to choosing Cayman, the couple sought local insight into the art-buying culture of the island and the level of support given to the National Gallery.

The Morgan Gallery is the islands’ exclusive representative of Carol Owens, wife of former Governor John Owens, and has a current stable of artists including Davy Brown (Scotland), William Heytman (Holland), Ng Foo Cheng (Malaysia) and Socrates (Greece).

Their response when asked if they would only be representing overseas art was both quick and refreshingly uncomplicated.

‘We’ve seen the standard of art out there such as in Native Sons and we’re happy to work with local artists whose work fits the criteria of fine art. Our focus though is to bring in what is missing here – the best of overseas art,’ Geraldine said.

Being aware of their market is at the forefront of the couple’s aims in making Morgan Gallery a resounding success. To this end, the gallery is willing to commission larger pieces if demand permits.

‘All the artists we represent undertake commissions. We provide that service as well as find specific art or artists and work along with interior designers in terms of colour and theme, if asked to do so,’ Geraldine added.

Knowing their prospective niche has also meant they have come prepared to give the business time.

‘We are fully aware that this can’t be done on a shoestring, it takes time to build an investment, to build interest and a reputation… we are prepared for the long haul,’ said Steve.

Keen to adapt their stock to meet client tastes and requirements, the owners say they have the flexibility and the contacts to bring in the necessary volume of preferred work.

The longer the gallery is in existence, they feel, the more chance it will have to evolve. At the moment, the gallery’s testing the market with an eclectic mix of styles and artists to see what captures buyers’ interest.

‘We aim to always have an experimental edge to the gallery. Rather than let it get boring and stale we’d prefer to close up for a week or so and go overseas and get new art and try new things,’ said Geraldine.

The Morgan Gallery also plans to experiment by bringing in overseas artists and by holding themed exhibitions from time to time.

The Morgan Gallery, 943-6566, is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10am -5pm.

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