Fitzrovia’s Galleries: a landscape that has changed rapidly

In September 2011, I enthusiastically reported “The Fitzrovia Gallery Explosion”, announcing that we now had 37 art galleries in Fitzrovia of which 21 had opened in the preceding three years.

Black and white photograph of man looking into a mirror.

35th Interim Exhibition: ID — a group exhibition by five international artists that revolves around the concept of identity. Artists: Sarah Baker, Caron Geary, David Hancock, Risk Hazekamp and Brigitte Stepputtis. Curated by: Antoni Ferrer. Hanmi Gallery 6-15 June 2014.

In the two and a half years since that article there has been a phenomenal amount of coming and going with 30 new galleries opening, and 19 galleries closing, of which 10 have been and gone in the period. (The most dramatic departure was Haunch of Venison, owned by Christies auction house, which only lasted a year to March 2013, and whose beleaguered artists only learnt about it online). That’s a new art space every month, and a closure every six weeks – hard to keep up.

At one point in 2012, there were 54 galleries, and we are now down to around 48. Here are the latest league tables:

New since September 2011: 4 Windmill Street, Adam Gallery, Bartha Contemporary, Berloni, Black Arts Company, Caroll/Fletcher, Caroll/Fletcher Projects, England & Co., Evelyn Yard, Fred- London/New Art Projects, GRAD, Gallery Libby Sellers, Kashya Hildebrand, Pi Artworks, Rook & Raven, Rose Issa Projects, Richard Saltoun, Scream, Tiwani Contemporary, T J Boulting.

Opened and closed since September 2011: Dekko, Derwent Gallery, Haunch of Venison, Iberica Gallery, Margaret Street Gallery, Nati Gallery, Nettie Horn, Piper Gallery, Test Space Gallery, Yannick Gallery.

Closed or relocated since September 2011: Cole Contemporary, David Roberts Foundation, Diemar Noble, Ladiray Gallery, Mummery & Schnelle, Regina, Rollo Gallery, Twist, Gallery Vela.

All this activity is creating new gallery history as several operations have taken over existing gallery premises: Caroll/Fletcher Projects was Nettie Horn; Richard Saltoun was David Roberts Foundation; Kashya Hidebrand was Regina; Berloni was Margaret Street Gallery. In 2011, only Rebecca Hossack had two gallery spaces in Fitzrovia, but now two others have added a second space: Caroll/Fletcher have opened a project space in Riding House Street, and Rook and Raven have recently opened in Evelyn Yard, tucked away between Rathbone Place and Gresse Street.

In the midst of all this flux, there are some truly wonderful opportunities to enjoy art in Fitzrovia. Hanmi Gallery, which opened at 30 Maple Street four years ago, has had 34 “Interim Exhibitions”, each a journey of discovery spread over its five floors. The premises are stripped back to its skeleton, as the gallery plans its eventual refurbishment – hence the “interim” – and many participating artists have taken advantage of this to create site specific pieces and installations that seem to merge with the very fabric of the building. Amongst the wonders that I have seen here are the BT Tower projected on to a gallery wall via a camera obscura, and a naked woman with metre long finger nails emerging from a hole in the basement floor. Gallery director Heashin Kwak describes Fitzrovia as London’s art hub, and features both East Asian and Western artists.

Fitzrovia Lates, an initiative to attract visitors to galleries by staying open late on the last Thursday of each month lost momentum at the end of last year after The Photographers Gallery ceased to administer it. However I am reliably informed by Anna Wallace Thompson of Kashya Hildebrand Gallery that it is back on track with the support of around 25 galleries, and both website and Facebook page are being revamped in time for Frieze in October. It will be bigger and better with curated events and gallery tours. In the meantime, do check with your favourite galleries, as many are still keeping late hours on last Thursdays.

Several of the galleries that have now moved on either started in Shoreditch and Bethnal Green (and in some cases have moved back East) or were first time gallerists. Some galleries have experienced the first stage of a similar scenario to Soho, New York in the 1980s and Spitalfields in the 2000’s. Small galleries move in to a previously “undiscovered” but just affordable locale, making it hip and desirable, only to discover that business is not as good as anticipated and after that first rent review, upwards of course as their presence has made the area more popular, they have to close or seek cheaper premises. Stuart Shave’s Modern Art, the gallery that is credited with starting the recent influx of galleries, allegedly called his landlord’s bluff when faced with an extensive rent rise at his extensively remodelled Eastcastle Street Gallery. He relocated to Clerkenwell, but cannily keeps a presence in Fitzrovia by leasing a floor of the Georgian Society in Fitzroy Square.

Larger and better-funded galleries able to afford rents in excess of £65 per square foot move in, including many with an international presence. With giants of the New York art scene Pace and Marian Goodman establishing themselves in neighbouring Soho, I think it is only a matter of time until we see a major American gallery opening in our manor.

The other major influx is likely to come from Mayfair. In the wake of the redevelopment by Native Land of that bastion of the British art world, Cork Street, four out of seven galleries on the east side are going for good and there is a future threat to galleries trading on the west side. The Evening Standard reported on 12 May that art galleries in Mayfair are under threat from rising rents, which have been pushed up by luxury brands seeking the best locations. A 30-strong group of gallery owners led by property veteran Sir Stuart Lipton and Gallerist John Martin are seeking to find 100-150,00 square feet of space in a multi level, destination building to house them all under one roof, and one of the areas they are considering is … Eastcastle Street. Watch this space!

Full details of all galleries mentioned, and current listings can be found on the back page of the current print edition of Fitzrovia News.

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