Alexu Toader, Imbold Gallery | Interview

During our visit at Desenarium exhibition, we had the chance to talk to Alexu Toader about the evolution of Imbold Gallery, past projects and future plans. Here is an exclusive interview for The re:art.

Imbold Gallery

© Imbold Gallery

In December 2013, you celebrated one year since the launch of Imbold Gallery, with The Gathering 2 exhibition. How was your first year? 

Firstly, this year was a test to see if a social business really works, especially when having a small bistro which generates traffic and income. We need traffic to expose artists to a public who is not necessarily interested in art, but is rather familiar to and enjoys creative stuff. Likewise, we need income to cover costs for exhibitions, so that there is no pressure on the artists and less focus on the gallery commission, which was of very small interest for us in the first year. And besides the gallery, these earnings helped us to finance the Grădinesco festival, Imbold Nativ festival, the Antrenart creative entrepreneurship platform, craft workshops and the other happenings we supported.

Imbold Nativ

© Imbold Gallery

So, the first year was this test of the bistro as social and cultural hub, integrated in the activities of a NGO, where people come to enjoy a special selection of wines, beer and so on, while also being exposed to the works of Ioana Şopov, Paula Rusu or Victor Fota, who wasn’t well known until our collaboration, or sculptures of Misha Diaconu. Our collaboration with Victor, for example, is the merit of my brother, Andrei Argaetic, who besides illustration was also the curator of the exhibitions. We often intersect, as I come with an advertising background, while he is more focused on art. Thus, our positioning at Imbold is of a cool agency which doesn’t sell much, but helps artists with the visibility they need so that they can have more freelance projects.

We noticed a new wave of artists who are less interested in galleries and rather willing to expose their works in unconventional spaces. However, in your case, the artists seem really happy to work with you. How would you describe your relationship with artists, as a gallery?

There are people, not necessarily artists, who criticize us because they say the gallery is too embedded in the bistro, that it is not how a gallery should be. However, when we moved from previous projects held in industrial spaces, we decided for a small place where we can invite people to expose, without talking to a curator, to combine art with music, because when you have an artist who is less known, it is very important to use some hooks to get people to come and see him. If we have a new artist, we first include him in collective exhibitions, followed by a solo show, after he already gained awareness.

Acuarela - Stefan Vartolomei

Acuarela bistro | © Ștefan Vartolomei

Why do artists enjoy working with us? Our business model allowed us to avoid financial constraints for the artists. For example, you are a digital artist. This would imply the highest costs for the exhibition. You come to us, and after months of stress and barters, when we offer our services for free to some of our partners, we manage to find people who can print the works.

The Desenarium exhibition, for example, was a major challenge for us. We didn’t sleep for two weeks, because we had 20 prints, 50 x 70, none of the conventional sponsors covering this area didn’t want or could not help us. We were facing this pressure because we didn’t have the financial support to go on with the exhibition. The music moment also involved renting instruments, and fortunately, MINUS and thatcouchfunkcollective (nicecream.fm) were friendly and saved us some costs. All in all, with help of friends, we managed to launch the exhibition and the result was great.

Desenarium - Catalin Georgescu

Desenarium | © Cătălin Georgescu

Returning to your question, artists enjoy working with us because we have a branding agency and have the professional experience to have a coherent communication, we have very good media partnerships with publications, bloggers and so on, there are great people who like and support our initiative, and our better said ‘non-business’ model allows us to do what we want with our own resources.

After the first year, in January, we had long discussions whether to go on with the gallery as it is or focus on a pop-up gallery, but at the end we decided to give it another chance this year. Imbold Gallery is actually an extra work for people here, with no financial benefits. So, not being focused on these financial aspects makes artists happy.

Do you have special projects with artists, outside the gallery? For example, we saw that you supported Misha with projects independent from Imbold. So, the relationship is more than here and now? 

Well, with Misha we really have a special relationship in a sense that if there are opportunities for her, we try to make them reach a maximum potential. When she created the biggest equestrian sculpture, no one would have talked about it. So we gathered together, had a brainstorming, we involved a copywriter, sent a press release, thus making the story as viral as we could. Then, when she received a scholarship in Austria, we used our resources to support her. Somehow, she is a pro-bono client of the agency. At her pop-up exhibition at the Athenaeum, we again supported her. And when I say ‘we’, I refer not only to myself, my parents and brother, but the entire team and people who are part of our community and constantly help us. This was the initial concept: you come here, see an exhibition, usually you get to meet the artists, who spend their time here, so you can interact with the man behind the artist.

Misha Diaconu

Misha Diaconu’s equestrian sculpture | © Imbold Gallery

We like to offer people a cozy and warm place to spend their time, here there is always music, our colleague Miruna, who was a ballerina and writes books for children, is also a guide, or Ancuţa, who is an illustrator, thus even the team working at Acuarela bistro has some skills to introduce people to the gallery, they can have the right input, talk about the exhibited works. Even if people only come for a drink, it’s very important that they have the chance to learn more about artists, they take photos, post them on Facebook. When we had Misha’s ballerina in the garden, people started to take photos with the sculpture and shared them on social networks.

At Acuarela

© Acuarela

In the past year, you’ve mostly focused on illustration, painting, digital art. There were also several photography exhibitions. Is there a new area you are interested in this year?

Indeed, we stayed focused on illustration, sculpture, painting and digital art, because these were the fields the artists whom we started collaborating with were active in. We launched this gallery to expose people we liked, previously worked with etc. The photography exhibitions came as special projects, through other NGOs and friends. For example, I was friends with Igu and when he started his Bucureşti Optimist project and we met with him and Atelierul de Print, the Bucureşti Optimixed digital art and photography mix exhibition came natural. And this is one of the projects we want to grow in the following period.

Bucureşti Optimixed

© Acuarela

You mentioned Antrenart at the beginning of the interview. How was the first session? Will there be others?

The Antrenart idea came up at a drink with a friend, Andreea, who had just returned from a Swedish research centre on family entrepreneurship. We were a family business, she liked us and we liked her, she told us that she was to be visited by a Lithuanian friend, Rasa, who works in Austria, at Pioneers, the leading platform for entrepreneurship in Europe. At that time, we were trying to sketch a creative entrepreneurship platform. So we decided to launch a pilot edition and we are planning to continue Antrenart, it is now in stand by because of other projects. At the first edition, we invited Pisica Pătrată, All Hollow and Rasa. They talked about their projects and it was very interesting, way over our expectations, as we had only 50 guests, less promo.

Who makes it all possible at Imbold?

Well, there’s the four of us: myself, my brother and my parents. Besides my brother who is directly connected to art as a painter, and also studied art pedagogy, my mother and father are retired, and worked in totally different fields. When we ended the previous project, we just looked at each other asking ourselves who we can collaborate with. We concluded that it is better not to involve outsiders as associates and that we can give it a try together. I’m surprised I get along so well with my associates.

Then, we gathered around us many people whom I really care about, we’ve already overcome the barrier of professional relationship. Since the launch of Acuarela, we tried to have a staff with no experience in HoReCa, but rather in creative fields. Our good friend Teddy, who is now in Berlin, used to work in corporations, in call centers and all these jobs that required Excel skills. We brought him here, together with three copywriters: a colleague, Timea, who had recently returned from Singapore, Răzvan, who had then left Gavrilă & Associates and Alex who had also left his job as a copywriter, so all sorts of people with no experience whatsoever in this field. We had also two colleagues from theatre, Diana and Mădălina. This was obvious, in summer, you were lucky if someone brought your order in less than 20 minutes, we had negative feedback, but really creative team. In autumn, half of the team went to London or Berlin to study stage management, fashion design, so very different fields. But we now have a very cool team, again with no experience in HoReCa: Miruna, who took ballet lessons and writes stories for children, published in England, Anca, who is an illustrator and together with Miruna painted the wall here, a sort of comic strip with us and Andra, jazz singer and also a teatrologist.

Alexandra also has a very interesting story, she came here as a PR for theatre to present us a theatre troupe. Her presentation was rather a job interview. There are people like Alexandra and Cip who have invested a lot in the project and we try to keep them here, encourage them to manage their own projects inside Acuarela/ Imbold.

Imbold Team

© Imbold

On every Monday, we have a feedback status, we talk, share our problems, it’s not like your usual bistro, it’s more about equality and respect. Even though we tried this from the beginning, I believe we are on the right track with the current team. And what’s most important is that when doing things with passion you also encourage others to work the same. Passion becomes contagious. Even though we face hard moments, we try to keep things going, make them work.

What’s next for the following period?

We’ll continue with Grădinesco and Imbold Nativ, we are going to rearrange the garden space, focus on jazz events, exhibitions and we’ll give Imbold another chance this year.

More info about Imbold on their website.