Pop-up Popularity: The Future of the Gallery Space or Simply a Hipster Trend?

I have lived the majority of my life up the road from a local pop-up venue, once suitably named The Pink Cabbage. In that time, I have watched the space cycle through its various functions, from an art gallery to a furniture showroom to a vintage fashion store, to, somewhat ironically, it’s final destination as a funeral parlour. Art, it seems, really is dead.

In the UK, the pop-up industry is now worth around a staggering £2.3 billion. Described as a cross between an ‘Instagrammable mecca and an adult funhouse’, these temporary art venues often feature quirky styling and lavish décor, interactive installations and a whimsical theme. Whilst they might be an innovative way to display art, are pop-ups merely a fleeting hipster trend?

Nowadays, we live in an age of pop-up culture. This is an age of immediacy, availability and clickbait. The concept of the pop-up echoes the short attention spans of our generation. As if to illustrate this, the phrase can even refer to the initiation of an online conversation on a platform such as Facebook.

Here today, gone tomorrow

The most attractive feature of a pop-up venue is it’s exclusivity; customers are far more likely to queue for hours on end if they understand the limited-edition nature of what they are about to see. There is an experiential element which traditional galleries and shops simply cannot compete with, with the FOMO (fear of missing out) effect and sense of urgency created by a pop-up appealing to our psychology, meaning we are more likely to make to effort to go and see what is on offer before it is too late.

Pop-ups can help more traditional retailers tap into “massclusivity”, giving customers, despite being in large numbers, the feeling that what they are getting is a distinct, limited-time-only experience that cannot be replicated. Pop-up stores are able to breathe new life into high streets and deliver maximum impact in the shortest time possible for brands in search of exposure.

Money matters

There is also the financial aspect of the pop-up. Design companies can create a buzz and experience levels of success without having to pay ridiculous prices for commercial space, especially in central London. A cheap, visible spot with no long-term commitment now means it is easier than ever to give a start-up the leg up into the industry it needs or inject some life into an old, flagging business.

An experience to remember

Clearly, it is not about only what is inside the pop-up, but the unique experience created by it, along with boundless creativity and a chance for companies to be experimental. The pop-up idea also lets consumers ‘try before you buy’, as you can get a taste for a product through a mindless browse without committing to a large purchase or expensive shopping trip.

Pop-ups are also a chance to reach different audiences and bring an online brand to life. For online-only businesses, the pop-up presents a perfect opportunity to paint a physical picture of what their brand represents. Customers can see and touch products in the flesh and enables a space for feedback too.

Pop-ups in Leeds

In Leeds alone, there are a whole host of pop-up supper clubs to lure in customers. Among these are the seasonal Hidden Harewood, Afsaneh’s Persian Kitchen, run by MasterChef competitor Afsaneh Kaviani, Spice It Up and King Street Social. There is also Pop Up & Play, a two-week summer festival in August of free playful activity in Leeds, inspired by the Natural Selection exhibition at Leeds Art Gallery.

A new pop-up art space has also launched in Leeds, partnering East Street Arts and LJ Real Estate. 34 Boar Lane opened in April for six months, hosting digital and audio-visual artists and designers with a key focus on food and art, and based in and around a series of specially designed wooden studio pods. It housed a range of workshops, exhibitions and events, including Digital Natives as part of Leeds International Festival as well as Mr Arkwright’s Food Emporium, a collaboration between artist Helen Russell Brown, The Real Junk Food Project and creative chef, Andy Castle from Ox Club as part of Leeds Indie Food Festival.

So next time you hear about the latest pop-up in your area, resist the temptation to jump in line and instead visit your local art exhibition.