The fairs are over but, the capital's young galleries continue to flourish, in spaces both familiar and unlikely
In planning how it might be possible to visit the largest number of London’s younger galleries in a single day,I unfold an A to Z map and rest the tip of a pencil on Soho Square. I trace a line west and then south over the river, describing an anticlockwise arc that sweeps down through the increasingly desirable southeast, curving to glance the meridian in Greenwich. My pencil loops back over the river through the old East End, once synonymous with Sarah Lucas and Tracey Emin’s Shop, and other YBA antics, now with men on expensive bicycles. When the line reaches Hackney – its various localities rebranded by property developers as bucolic-sounding idylls (‘Victoria Park Village’) – the spiral ends.
My itinerary starts with a coffee in the still seedy environs of Soho, whose early-morning streets look much like a hangover feels, and where a sex shop, a much-loved independent art bookstore (Claire de Rouen – note the Marc Camille Chaimowicz wallpaper as you climb the stairs), and one of London’s most talked-about new exhibition spaces occupy three floors of the same premises. Rodeo (‘Ro-dayo’) opened as an outpost of Sylvia Kouvali’s Istanbul gallery; with the 2015 closure of that space, it’s now the gallery’s HQ. Founded with the aim to foster exchange between the art scenes in Turkey, Greece and Cyprus (its name comes from the Latin rodere – to circulate), the gallery’s roster today extends to fêted German painter (and Istanbul resident) Lukas Duwenhögger, cerebral Egyptian artist Iman Issa, and British videomaker James Richards.
Southard Reid, like all good Soho institutions, is hidden away down a back street. Its commitment to emerging artists has seen the gallery transformed into a nightclub (for Prem Sahib’s ‘Bump’) or this summer given over as a studio to painter Celia Hempton, whose evolving painting installation will be presented at Frieze London. From here, a ten-minute walk crossing the arterial bustle of Oxford Street takes me to Fitzrovia, whose tight streets play host to Carroll/Fletcher, Edel Assanti, Evelyn Yard – where the likes of PUPPIES PUPPIES and Trevor Shimizu have made their debuts in the city – and Josh Lilley, which represents young artists on both sides of the Atlantic, including British painter Nick Goss and LA-based sculptor Kathleen Ryan. It’s possible from here to stroll west to Marylebone – where forward slashes are mandatory in gallery names – to visit PM/AM and Hunter/ Whitfield, where rising talents Rebecca Ackroyd and Gery Georgieva have shown fresh out of art school.
But it’s time for me to head south. Lambeth, just over the river, is not a traditional hub of the capital’s art market. Among the pioneer settlers is Tobias Czudej, who has dealt with confusion arising around his name by calling his gallery the phonetic Chewday’s; it occupies a shopfront on the ground floor of a late modernist housing complex, a space Czudej found by ‘wandering the streets, knocking on doors’. A recent group show saw works by Dora Budor and Vincent Fecteau presented on a grid suspended across the space, while Gabriele Beveridge’s solo exhibition played upon the gallery’s previous incarnation as ‘Grace and Mercy Fashion Enterprise’ – Czudej is presenting her sculptures with Neolithic idols at Frieze London. This intelligent programme will bring new visitors to the area, as will the relocation to nearby streets of the influential Cabinet gallery, scheduled to open this autumn.
The 36 bus brings me to Peckham, the much-hyped successor to East London as home to the capital’s younger creative community. The familiar narrative of artistic enterprise being the catalyst of regeneration (or gentrification, depending on how you want to figure it) is played out here, with a slew of new coffee shops, graphic design agencies and restaurants joining the gospel churches and nail bars. After a light lunch of Cornish sardines at the locally owned and much-loved Refreshment Rooms I buzz on the neighbouring door to gain access to The Sunday Painter, a stalwart of the scene whose presentation of Samara Scott’s pool of coagulated domestic chemical solutions was a confrontational high- light of last year’s Frieze London: this year they return with Rob Chavasse.
Through a blue gate and beneath a railway arch is Arcadia Missa, the multidisciplinary arts project founded by Rozsa Farkas. A collaborative approach to exhibition-making and a highly regarded publishing programme (with books by Hannah Black and Jaakko Pallasvuo, among others) has long marked Arcadia Missa out among the most forward-thinking of the capital’s newer spaces and a rallying point for young artists. The sun at this point makes a brief appearance through the clouds, which encourages me to make a brief appearance at the bar on the roof of Bold Tendencies, the summer-long programme of visual art, music and performance installed in a disused multistorey car park. The project is the creation of Hannah Barry, whose eponymous gallery, still active on Holly Grove, was among the drivers of Peckham’s emergence as a rival to the established creative heartlands of the East End.
Piper Keys, where breakthrough shows by artists including painters Allison Katz and Lucy Stein (the latter experimenting with potato prints for the occasion) alternate with readings and other participatory events, recently relocated to Greenwich, and marks the easternmost edge of my spiral. The decision of this non-commercial space to set up in the south east only illustrates how widely dispersed London’s art scene is (among the far-flung are newcomer Sid Motion Gallery, a neighbour to kebab shops and launderettes in King’s Cross; Rowing in Kentish Town; Catford’s catchily named 2326RLS, in the ground floor of Owen Luder’s Eros House; and Croydon’s Turf Projects). For the next leg of my journey I secure a seat at the front of the driverless Docklands Light Railway, allowing me an unrestricted view of Canary Wharf’s dystopian landscape en route to Whitechapel and Carlos/Ishikawa, home to an impressive roster of artists including Korakrit Arunanondchai, who transformed an active sightseeing boat for this year’s Berlin Biennale, the sought after Colombian painter and installation artist Oscar Murillo (now also represented by David Zwirner) and Finnish video artist Pilvi Takala, who immerses herself in alien social situations. Director Vanessa Carlos was also behind Condo, the ‘gallery exchange’ which earlier this year saw eight younger galleries in London host 24 galleries from across the world. In the same collegial spirit, a former Carlos/Ishikawa director co-founded Union Pacific not far away down Whitechapel Road, where a comparably ambitious program (Ben Burgis and Ksenia Pedan’s all-over installation Oikos was a recent highlight) is taking shape.
It’s a short walk through East London’s elegantly dishevelled backstreets to Breese Little, an ambitious young gallery whose opening exhibition at their new space – a group show incorporating artists as diverse as Charles Avery, Marcel Broodthaers and Ian Hamilton-Finlay – was among the bright points of the spring season. Non-profits French Riviera (once a poodle-grooming parlour, a legacy acknowledged in a memorable 2014 show here by Lisa Brice) and Roman Road, strong in photography, are a stone’s throw from here, as is Kinman, a new outfit known for prescient group shows. Then it’s on to Seventeen, the Dalston gallery with a buzzy reputation built on a programme of young artists working in installation and film (recent exhibitions by Marianna Simnett and Megan Rooney have been especially well received). While the gallery announced the opening of an outpost in New York earlier this year, it has in recent years made a good neighbour to Limoncello. Since its foundation in 2007, that gallery has been as successful as any of the newer in combining a bold exhibition programme (Gabriele de Santis installed a trampoline in the gallery in 2015) with commercial growth. A yet-to-be-announced new location plus a settled list of artists including Bedwyr Williams and Lucy Clout – suggests that is set to continue.
I finish my day by meeting a friend for dinner at the celebrated Turkish kebab house Mangal 2 on Stoke Newington Road, at which East End art royalty Gilbert & George eat five nights a week (but not, alas, tonight). We move to Brilliant Corners, an audiophile’s bar run by brothers Aneesh and Amit Patel. I spent the first part of our evening hoping the DJ might play a song whose title would provide me with an apt closing line for this piece – ‘Giant Steps’, perhaps, or ‘Peter the Painter’ – but she fails to oblige. By the second part of the evening I’ve stopped caring.
Ben Eastham is co-founder and editor of The White Review, assistant editor of art-agenda, and associate editor of South as a State of Mind, the documenta 14 journal. He is the co-author, with Katya Tylevich, of My Life as a Work of Art (Laurence King, 2016).
First published in Issue 3