Interview with Óscar Florit, founder of the gallery L21 in Palma de Mallorca
Who is behind the nickname of Louis21, abbreviated to L21? Óscar Florit is a designer turned gallerist who continuously looks for new models of exhibitions and ways of relating to the space. After having run galleries and project spaces in Palma de Mallorca and Madrid, in September he is moving the gallery into an industrial space away from the center of Palma, where he and his artists will confront themselves with new proportions.
Can you tell us the story of your gallery?
The story of L21 began as a one-off rather than as the clear intention of opening an art gallery. Everything started with a project we commissioned to the artist Joan Morey. What we wanted from this was to realize an exhibition project inside of what L21 (Louis 21 in those days) was at that moment: a showroom where artworks lived together with pieces of furniture from different designers. After this I started to understand another way of seeing what we could actually do, different processes that encouraged us to leave aside the showroom project and start in the world of art galleries, where somehow I thought we had something to offer that was different from gallery scene in the Balearic Islands or Mallorca. For us, as spectators, it wasn’t the most dynamic moment so we wanted to do something about it and give something the city. So we started to do exhibition projects that filled that gap that we saw on the scene.
In 2013, with the intention of giving more visibility to our artists and project, we opened a second space at the well known Doctor Fourquet Street in Madrid, where we showed different projects of the artists we represent as well as others in collaboration with other galleries, always with the objective of having in mind the gallery as a space for experimentation. Once all our artists had an exhibition there and we had come full circle, we decided to close that space in 2016 to focus on a bigger project for our gallery in Palma.
Where does the name come from?
The name is something purely anecdotal. We were looking for a catchy name, even a funny one. With that in mind, and remembering my youth, I remembered a nickname that I used in an adult chat website, which was Louis21. A few years ago we abbreviated it to L21.
What is your background?
I studied Industrial Design here in Mallorca, and even before finishing my career, I opened my office as an Interior Designer. I’ve realized interior design projects for companies and individuals. Most of these projects had art as their principal motivation. I’ve also done many projects for art collectors and companies with a particular interest in art.
I think that this first profession of mine is the thing that has led me to developing the kind of projects that I believe make us somewhat different from other galleries around our scene. In 2014 we did a project called The Apartment where the show consisted of a collectors apartment relocated inside the gallery, and after this each artist did a similar exercise of their own for a year. This might be the project that defines me best as a professional. Nowadays of course I see myself as a gallerist more than a designer, since after six years and more than fifty projects and a lot of effort I have a huge feeling of belonging to and wanting to add something to this world.
You also run two project spaces: The Envelope and The Window. Can you tell us about these projects and make us examples of projects that you realized in these two spaces?
The need for continuous experimentation of what an exhibition means to us made us think of starting a few little spaces that allowed us to invite artists to develop site-specific projects, and also to collaborate with more recognized artists than the ones we represented by then, and to create an interesting network between them.
The Envelope is a space in the basement of our current gallery that also shares space with the storage room. To get in you have to bend down. Once in, you’re totally surrounded and locked inside a white cube of small proportions. We opened the space with a project by Ignacio Uriarte. He sent us a video with instructions for building the piece and we really enjoyed the process, as we understood in a deeper way his way of working, which is something that I consider very important in a gallerist. It’s interesting to see how some of the artists who started a type of work in this space have kept developing it in other spaces on a larger scale. I also remember a project by Nuria Fuster that consisted of a kind of game. You had to throw air tubes from bicycle wheels to some iron structures attached to the wall and see how gravity did the rest.
The Window space was the equivalent to The Envelope but in our space in Madrid, where we had a window that we used as a display to the street and thought of giving it a new life as an exhibition space that was open 24/7. Mostly all of the projects shown there were great interchanges between public and gallery.
I would highlight a work by Joan Morey “Spoilers for a Performance” where inside the window he showed a kind of calendar of written spoilers that described non realized performances and each day you ripped of a page, leaving a new written performance that the public would imagine in its own way. There was also a very nice project by Rodríguez-Méndez, who decided to take out the window structure leaving a space where anyone could get in, leaving different plaster sculptures that were changed as the public altered the work or the pieces simply disappeared.
What is the program of your gallery? What kind of art do you represent?
These days, after six years of activity, with galleries in Madrid and Palma, we’ve come to many conclusions. The most important one for me is that the gallery has to work with its context. And for us that context is our island, Mallorca. This place has a lot to offer in terms of contemporary art. So as for the next season we want to be a point of reference at the international level in terms of the quality level of exhibition developed within our framework.
We believe that we are one of the few galleries that has become established in Spain while working with young artists that have started their careers with us, doing their first exhibitions at our gallery, and that have started to develop their CVs at the same time as our gallery was also growing. We have participated in national and international fairs thanks to them. As this has become apparent, we have started collaborations with more established artists, increasing, as I said before, the visibility of our represented artists.
In our program we think a lot of the exhibition in reference to the space, trying to move away from standard exhibitions. Helping with these types of projects means that some people think of us as a gallery with a strong identity. It might sound pretentious but I’m really happy when someone says “this is very L21”.
Actually we represent six artists that started to work professionally with us, and another three that already came to the gallery with a strong background. I think L21 reflects the good status of the youngest Spanish art and also that of many international artists in our gallery roster. I tend to represent artists whose work and personality I truly believe in, which may seem obvious, but it’s not. I work with artists that I could even live with!
What does it mean to run a gallery in Mallorca?
In one way I have the feeling of being outside of everything, just because of being on an island. But the truth is that in Mallorca there’s a lot of movement and many critics, curators, artists and collectors come by our space to pay a visit. Working in smaller contexts makes it easier to define your project and give it strength. And moving your gallery to international fairs lets you know exactly where you are and what you can try fo just by working and working. I enjoy knowing other gallerists and talking about different contexts.
In September your are moving to a new space. Can you tell us about your move and what it means for your gallery?
For several years I’ve been wanting to move out the center of the city for many reasons.
I needed a change of scale of the project of the gallery. Our actual space has a low ceiling and sometimes that kept us from realizing some of the projects we’ve wanted to do, and since the space is small, I feel like we’ve already done everything we could.
All of our artists have done one or more solo shows at our gallery and I wanted to motivate them somehow with a bigger space like the warehouse we’re moving to in September, where we are opening with a solo exhibition by Ian Waelder.
Another reason for the move is because I wanted to dissociate myself with the projects you might be used to seeing in other commercial galleries in Palma. For us research and experimentation is very important and because of this, we decided to see just what could happen if we left behind the commodities of the center of the city and install the gallery in an industrial park, surrounded by businesses that somehow little have to do with art, but are the germ of everything we have around in our daily life. To be away from the center of the city is pretty normal in other countries, but especially in Mallorca it is something kind of crazy. But I’m really excited and can’t wait to keep working on the project.
What is, in your opinion the role of the gallerist today?
I think the role of the gallerist is somehow changing. I think we must try new formulas that get away from the already established ones and that have already stopped being interesting for a more cultured public. I understand that many of the actual models have a lot of good things, but on the other hand something is missing.
Practically all of the attention of the art collector is focused on art fairs, which I understand. The galleries are the ones that must work to excite and inspire hope in the collectors (and the public of course) and offer a kind of project that makes people say “if you didn’t go to see it, you just missed something great”. And that is what we tend to do at L21. Of course not everyone will have that opinion, but it’s our intention to work for that to happen, starting with my own satisfaction and with the satisfaction of the artists with each project we do together.
L21 participates in the 10th edition of ART-O-RAMA in Marseille from August 26th to 28th 2016.
San Martí, 1
Palma de Mallorca 07012, Spain