Why London dominates the Art World
I admit I am a snob. Despite being in the art business I mostly cannot bring myself to go see exhibitions in galleries in cities I find myself in. Ditto for museum exhibitions. And exhibitions in art centers, institutions, art-related establishments, and art cafes for that matter. The reason? When it comes to (among other things) art, I am spoilt.
Because of London.
Because I have been exposed to its intoxicating vibe and unique mojo for discovering, understanding and launching Art in a contemporary context. And this city, in an eccentric backdrop of tea and monarchy, knows how to be eternally contemporary. A look at the photos renders an attempt to defend the argument redundant but, for the sake of it, I will lay out some facts and thoughts to this effect.
An admission first: I am partial when it comes to London. I have been schooled there during a time that defined Contemporary Art as we know it today. It was the time the YBA movement was forming and I was lucky enough to witness this phenomenon in the making. I have seen the exhibitions at the old Saatchi Gallery in St. John’s Wood. I have seen the Sensation exhibition and “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” up close. I have seen shows that caused public uproar. My notion of Art has been critically shaped by these experiences.
London has an utterly exciting, thriving art scene. It is a place where trends hatch, rather than just flourish. Whether it is blockbuster exhibitions, featuring all the right names, or alternative, independent shows, championing new ones, London delivers. If you are an art lover in search of thrills, it is the place to visit. It caters for all needs, moreover offering easy, well-designed access between spaces.
The city has an impressive amount of galleries. It is hard to fathom the implied demand for art, but the numbers support it. Several areas act as art hubs and you can walk around and go literally from door to door and enjoy world class art, whichever door you pick. Some of these galleries are humbling in size, starchitect-designed, presenting AAA exhibitions that make you re-evaluate your relationship with the surrounding world. And this happens more often than not.
But it is not just about size or opulence – often times, this is not even the case. It is not even about the star artists that parade in and out of the exhibition spaces. It is about the sheer volume of mind-blowing art events, happening simultaneously, all over the place, from museums to galleries to inconspicuous pop-up spaces. In most places you get to see between 0-4 memorable exhibitions in the course of a year. In London you can catch 10 at any given day.
Examples of premium galleries include the White Cube (with 2 locations, in Mayfair and Bermondsey), Gagosian Gallery (3 spaces in the British capital), Hauser & Wirth (2 locales off Bond Street), Victoria Miro (East and Central) and Sadie Coles (another 2, 3, or 4 spaces – every time I visit a new one has popped-up). They all occupy prime real estate to host their blockbuster exhibitions to astonishing effect.
Parallel to them another brand of galleries, not necessarily as big in sq.m. but equally sumptuous, present the primest of what is going on right now. Such galleries include Blain Southern (a gallery I never fail to visit), Stephen Friedman, Almine Rech, Sprovieri and more. And the other galleries like Waddington Custot and Cortina that casually present high end works, to enjoy in between your frappuccino and facial appointment.
And then there is the other galleries, smaller ones, spread across the city, the ones championing a different branch of contemporary art. Galleries like The Stolen Space, Lazarides, Jealous – galleries that work hard to represent what’s interesting and new right now, proposing what is off the mainstream’s radar and make you feel like an accomplish to their curatorial approach. The ones that spell NEW in neon flashlights. I have a soft spot for them.
And of course there is the official establishments like the Tate Modern, The Whitechapel Gallery, the Barbican, the Royal Academy (and the list goes on and on). And there is Damien Hirst‘s Newport Street Gallery, which takes the entire contemporary art & audience thing to an entirely new level; but this is something that merits a post of its own.
And then you think of the exhibitions in your country and the galleries in, say, Greece and its cultural infrastructure and it all feels pathetic and very humbling. Every time I expose myself to the London art scene it strikes me as absurd to call myself a “colleague” of the people working the art scene there. My status may give me rightful permission to do so, but reality takes us worlds apart. And this holds truth for several other countries I have worked in.
Back to happier thoughts, when art-crawling in London, my SOS list includes: The White Cubes (both of them), Gagosian (the Central spaces), Blain Southern, The Stolen Space, Hauser & Wirth, Lazarides and, of course, the Newport Street Gallery. If I have more time I work the full Mayfair circle, all of Shoreditch, the Serpentine, the Whitechapel Gallery, New Cavendish Street and the National Portrait Gallery. And when time is not issue I check everything out because there is no such thing as a bad show in London – the least you can expect is to expand your cultural horizon. So next time you find yourself in the capital, make sure to catch a few shows, even if it is purely for educational purposes. The thrill is guaranteed.
During May, June & December I caught (among others) Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Louise Bourgeois, Yayoi Kusama, Kaws, Yoshitomo Nara, Georg Baselitz, Giacommetti, Yves Klein, Ben Eine, Tracey Emin, Renoir, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, D*Face, The London Police, Gilbert & George, Gavin Turk, Alex Katz; And works by Andy Warhol, Matisse, Miró, Picasso, Van Gogh. To name but a few.
The photos are meant as a (very) tightly curated sample of what I saw and by no means represent the entirety of what was on offer in London at the time. But it is not difficult to understand the tune the city is playing in.
So yes, forgive me next time I pass on seeing a Matisse exhibition in some American village and forgive me for not coming to see your show even if it is a 5 minute walk away from home. It is only because I am spoilt.
ART LOVERS’ BONUS
Here follow some links to facilitate your explorations if you find yourself in need to do some art-watching next time you are in London:
DISCLAIMER: Of course I DO see exhibitions whenever & wherever I can 🙂