Wondering People: The Digital Platform Making Art Accessible
That Sophie Merrell would end up working in the art world was more or less predestined. To say it is in the blood is an understatement; her mother is an art dealer, her father an art book publisher, her godparents are artists. Yet, after leaving Edinburgh university in 2017 (where she studied anthropology but put on art exhibitions in her spare time) she ended up in Amsterdam in early 2018 working in post-production.
“It wasn’t particularly creative,” says Merrell with a wry chuckle. But it turned out to be fortuitous. This was where she met and became friends with Isabella Rothman. “When I had my appendix out in 2019, I ended up being ill in bed for a long time. Isabella looked after me. That’s when I thought, ‘We need to do something together.’” That something is Wondering People: a curated platform showcasing work from under-the-radar artists. “We had this idea of bringing all sorts of artists together from different backgrounds and countries,” explains Merrell. “We really wanted to support these artists, encourage young people to buy art and make things much more accessible.” This idea of accessibility in a world plagued with accusations of elitism is a hot-button topic for Merrell. “For artists to get a gallery to accept or represent them, they almost need a ‘CV’ of exhibitions under their belts. It becomes impossible to get a foot in the door,” she says.
The commercialisation of artists’ work and the pressure to find the next breakout star is something Merrell admits she struggles with. But it is not a burden she projects onto the Wondering People roster. “I mean, who gets to decide that an artist is now the next big thing – or not?” she says, with a quiet exasperation. “We pick the artists – be it from art fairs or art schools or even Instagram – because we think their work is really, really good. Of course, we want them – and our business – to be successful, but the idea of ‘the next big thing’ just doesn’t really bother us.”
Funmi Fetto is the Global Editorial Director of Service95 and a Contributing Editor at British Vogue
Isabella Rothman, Sophie Merrell (2023), Lottie Hampson; Seen (2023), Edwina Longe; Clash (2022), Barney Curran; Strawberry Cheesecake (2022), Zach Zono; Spouted Vase (2023), Ali Hewson; Varanasi (2017), Sophie Merrell; Growing Pains (2022), Anyaa Dev; Rinella (2022), Sophie Merrell; Your Creation (2023), Edwina Longe. All © Wondering People