New gallery’s goal is making fine art accessible and affordable.
Parsa Behnamiri, owner of the new FreeMarket Gallery on Upper Westside, didn’t take a traditional route into the art world. Rather, the Emory MBA devoted his study time to economics and finance, and most of his career to IT consulting.
“I have always been passionate about art, music and creative pursuits in general; I just never had an aptitude for it,” he says. “All paths did not lead to art, and it was a winding road to get here.”
The road diverged for Behnamiri in 2017 when he co-founded ShowATL, a company that highlighted the creative ventures of Atlanta artists, designers, entrepreneurs and technologists. The venture expanded his contacts in the art world, who encouraged him to make it his career focus. The result was FreeMarket Gallery that opened in 2019 in Underground Atlanta.
“I wanted to forge a change, try something new, take a risk,” he says. But when the complex’s ownership changed, he began looking for new locations. Then came COVID. After months of just being online, the gallery landed on Howell Mill Road in June.
“Given the westside’s proximity to what I consider the arts district of metro Atlanta between Miami Circle, Buckhead and West Midtown, this was the ideal location for fine arts, luxury home goods—anything like that,” Behnamiri says. “It had the right timing at the right moment and a 4,700-square-foot space that worked. We have room to show more than 60 pieces from more than 15 artists.”
The new space also gives Behnamiri room to showcase the gallery’s mission: making fine art accessible and affordable.
“I have traditionally seen luxury fine art being a bit opaque, with not a lot of visibility around the transactional level,” he says. “Prices are rarely published outright. Buying it is more like being in a club, and it’s difficult to procure without coming off as a bit exclusive to the general public. My perspective is that fine art should be in a marketplace that’s open to all people, and the idea here is to eliminate those psychological barriers around visiting galleries and meeting artists.” Behnamiri puts a priority on works by local and regional artists, including mixed media specialist Niki Zarrabi, metalsmith and painter Adelaide Tai, muralist Peter Ferrari and abstractionist Phil Harris. Prices range from $1,000 to $8,000, though higherpriced pieces are on hand. “That range is relatively affordable in a luxury art space where not everything is $50,000,” he says.
The founder promotes the concept that anyone can be a collector, even if they don’t have extensive art expertise or deep pockets. “Here, you don’t have to have a lot of academic training, know the right people or understand technique and form,” he says. “What we do really well, as the name suggests, is be a marketplace. That means we broker the needs of the artists and the collectors, and we don’t exploit artists for the sake of the patrons and vice versa.”
Behnamiri says “fine art” has often been defined by price point, artist reputation or size, but he believes a work with a message is also in that category. “I think fine art conveys a specific spirit, theme or subject that speaks to you beyond, ‘Oh, they used nice colors’—which is a perfectly good reason to like a piece of art. But fine art takes things to a different level.”
A collector himself, Behnamiri favors the classics. “I can spend hours and hours in an art museum looking at Picasso, Dali, Goya or Velazquez,” he says. “And I’m happy that Atlanta is rife with talent who can take references from classical periods and make them their own.”
Behnamirir, who late last year opened Ponce City Market’s The Print Shop that carries limited, signed editions of prints, is also happy being the business brains rather than an artist. “I can’t draw a stick figure. My one contribution to the fine art world is the business aspect.”
1193 Howell Mill Road N.W.
Atlanta-based writer and editor contributing to a number of local and state-wide publications. Instructor in Georgia State’s Communication department and Emory’s Continuing Education division.