Meet the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale

Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House

Richard Scott has boosted the profiles of design and hospitality’s biggest players, but now he’s got his eyes on the world’s most prestigious arts organisation

Thursday 17 March 2022 By Soho House

In the eight-floor lounge of 180 House sits Richard Scott, founder and CEO of PR agency Scott & Co, sipping a green tea. He’s just been to visit his client, Frieze, the global contemporary art publishing and events company that has an office in the building. Scott is taking meetings before dinner at Toklas – the restaurant by Frieze cofounders Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp – which he helped launch that’s also on the same premises. 
 
A Founder member of Shoreditch House, Scott is something of an international communications secret agent: like all the world’s truly influential PRs, he is discreet and understated, while in fact wielding an extremely powerful black book of contacts, cultivating a prestigious client list and operating at the top of his profession.  
 
Having cut his teeth in the late 1990s world of Cool Britannia as a PR executive for the then-legendary Met Bar, he went on to represent brands and operators in the worlds of design and hospitality. This includes the pioneering American hotelier, Ian Schrager, before getting the ‘art bug’ and expanding into what he now refers to broadly as contemporary culture.
Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House
Scott founded his PR agency 10 years ago with a mission to work with clients who drive the culture forward, be it major organisations such as Frieze, or fashion and retail brands at the intersection of art, like Selfridges and Louis Vuitton. He also worked with cultural leaders such as Simon de Pury, dubbed the ‘Mick Jagger of auctions’, and Pamela Joyner, the activist art patron and philanthropist with whom he rolled out a widely successful campaign to lobby for increased equity for Black artists in museum collections worldwide. The client list speaks to a formidable reputation – of both the agency and its founder.  
 
Right now, Scott is preparing for the Venice Biennale, which opens with its customary VIP invitation-only Vernissage week in late April, a year later than planned due to the pandemic. The Venice Biennale is formally titled the ‘International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia’ but widely referred to with awe as the ‘Olympics of the Art World’.  
 
Some 80 countries stage exhibitions in national Pavilions, each vying for the coveted Golden Lion prize, alongside an enormous group exhibition featuring work by more than 200 artists and countless ‘collateral events’. It is the gathering for the world’s most important artists, their galleries, museum directors, curators, collectors, often the odd film star or mega-DJ, and media.
Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House
‘Lots and lots of media’, as Scott says, ‘as well as hundreds of exhibition openings, press conferences and, of course, events.’ Given that the whole spectacle is ultimately about public reaction and perception, the PR’s role in the week’s success is paramount, as Scott says with a smile: ‘Although of course we must credit the hundreds of artists and curators who make the actual exhibitions, really the whole thing is run by PRs. A giant phalanx of PR professionals from around the world who converge in Venice to ensure that their Pavilions and exhibitions garner the best reviews in global media outlets, the most likes on Instagram, and the best-attended events.’  
 
So, what are going to be the hot shows and events to look out for? Given the enormity of what’s on, it can be difficult to pin-point specific projects, and also there are often surprise standouts that no one anticipated in advance. But Scott gives some pointers: ‘Personally, I am looking forward to seeing Simone Leigh’s presentation for the US Pavilion – she is an incredible artist and there is huge anticipation for this exhibition. I’m also really intrigued by Cameroon’s Pavilion, which will not only be a debut for the country in Venice, but also, I think I’m right in saying, the Biennale’s first ever crypto Pavilion. They will show NFTs alongside IRL works, which is a pretty bold move.’
Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House
Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House
Scott’s own client history in Venice includes the British Pavilion in 2019, which showed artist Cathy Wilkes, as well as the Israeli Pavilion, and events for numerous foundations and artists including Mark Bradford who represented the US in 2017. This year, his projects speak to what he describes as the future direction of the art world on a couple of different fronts.  
 
The first looks eastwards, towards Korea in particular, which over the past few years has emerged as a major new player in the international art market as numerous Western galleries from Thaddaeus Ropac to Johann König open branches in the country and Frieze plans to stage its first-ever art fair in Seoul this September.  
 
Scott will represent the Korean Pavilion, which will show giant installations and kinetic sculptures, some 50 metres long, by Yunchul Kim that interact with invisible particles circulating in the atmosphere. ‘Yunchul has promised us a giant swirling cosmic event, emanating from the Biennale Giardini,’ Scott enthuses. The other direction is climate change and the environment – an issue that the art world is finally beginning to confront and an area in which Scott has been active for some years, including as a founder member of the peer-led advocacy group, the Gallery Climate Coalition.
Meet Richard Scott, the art PR king planning to own the Venice Biennale | Soho House

In Venice, he is representing two exhibitions staged by long-standing client, TBA21 Academy, which commissions artworks and conducts research to foster a deeper relationship to the oceans. The academy has its own permanent exhibition space in Venice, housed in the Church of San Lorenzo, which dates back to the ninth century and is ‘simply one of the most beautiful buildings in a city of extraordinarily beautiful buildings, especially churches,’ he says. Also focused on the environment will be a film by Fiona Banner that Scott will promote, which reflects on the urgent issues of climate change. A major exhibition of new paintings at Ca’Pesaro by London-based artist Raqib Shaw complements Scott’s programme.  
 
The staging of the Biennale comes at an important moment for PR professionals, who see the physical convening aspects of such events as major tools to their trade that have not been available during the pandemic. Scott says that ‘Venice is the moment when everyone comes together. It will be stressful for sure, and we will all be completely exhausted by the end, but Venice is so magical, I actually can’t wait to get there.’ And the best way to unwind afterwards?  
 
A trip to the new Soho House in Rome would be the perfect tonic…

 

The Venice Biennale will take place from 23 April to 27 November 2022. Click here for more information.

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