Gallery Weekend brings London’s art scene back to life

LONDON – “I met her on a dating app… I met her in a pub,” said Ellie Pennick, 24, director and founder of Tripe gallery, recalling on Friday how she discovered some of the young artists whose work she was selling in a pop-up space near Carnaby Street during the first edition of London Galleries Weekend.

Pennick, who describes herself as a “queer working-class Northerner with no artistic training,” was one of more than 130 London-based dealers holding live exhibitions during the three-day collaborative initiative from June 4-6. , which aimed to reinvigorate the contemporary art scene in the British capital after months of coronavirus-induced lockdowns.

Unable to pay the fees to study sculpture at Royal College of Art, London and frustrated with the dominant systems of the art world, Pennick said she decided to become a nomadic merchant who uses pop-up shows and the internet to promote bold new talent.

“I looked at the economic model and saw that the main expense was space. So I thought I would take that off, ”Pennick said. Her participation in Gallery Weekend was supported by famous London merchant Sadie Coles, who loaned her a small business unit in Soho.

Pennick exhibited 10 works by artists that she “defends” (she prefers the term to “represent”). Seven of them were sold at Friday’s opening, led by “6 ​​Red Chillies”, an expressionist self-portrait by the London-based Saudi artist. Shadi al-Atallah. This mixed painting was purchased by a London collector for 8,500 pounds, or approximately $ 12,000.

Gallery weekends, which encourage art lovers to wander from showroom to showroom across a city, have become a successful formula for dealers in places such as Zurich, which unlike London does not host the large art fairs and auctions that in the past attracted international visitors.

But the double blows of Brexit and the pandemic have hurt London’s position as the capital of the European art market. At the end of May, the 12-month total of auctions at Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s in London was $ 1.7 billion, down $ 1 billion from the equivalent total in 2019, according to Pi-eX, an art market research company. Some the great galleries of the city have closed, and travel restrictions threaten to turn an international destination fair like Frieze London in October, if it takes place at all, into a scaled-down event.

Jeremy Epstein, co-founder of London Gallery Weekend, said: “Galleries and artists have had to update their relationship with their audiences. He acknowledged that a local, rather than global, crowd would visit the event, but said he hoped that in the future it would become as important an attraction for international collectors as the dealers’ exhibits that coincide with. Frieze.

Judging by the exhibits on display, North American artists still view London as an important gateway to recognition – and acquisition – in Europe. Painting, especially figurative painting, predominates, as is currently the case in large-scale international auctions.

White cube has ceded her central London gallery to an exhibition of 20 recent works by famous Brooklyn-based French artist Julie Curtiss, whose paintings of stylized surreal women, often focusing on shoes and hair, have sold over 400 $ 000 at auction.

The centerpiece of the exhibition, Curtiss ‘London premiere, was a 2021 circular canvas, “The Future,” showing blank-faced figures on a riverbank that updated Georges’ pointillist masterpiece. Seurat, “A Sunday afternoon on the island of La Grande Jatte”.

On a rainy Friday morning, the White Cube show drew a steady number of local visitors, including Patsy Prince, a London-based actress and collector.

“It was a nightmare. We have been starving, ”Prince said. “I can’t look at art online anymore. I want to feel it. I want to taste the creativity. You can’t do this on Zoom.

Curtiss’ paintings cost between $ 40,000 and $ 170,000, and all had found buyers, according to Paul Garaizabal, sales manager at White Cube.

Jaclyn Conley, a Canadian figurative painter working in New Haven, Connecticut; Leidy Churchman, a painter from Maine whose work is steeped in Buddhist philosophy; and Alvaro Barrington, a New York-London-based multimedia artist born in Venezuela and influenced by rap culture, are all names that have yet to make much of an impact at auction. But their works have been exhibited in prestigious museums, appealing to buyers who want to stay ahead of the market curve.

New works by Conley, whose paintings were collected by Barack and Michelle Obama, drew multiple bids at the Skarstedt gallery in central London. Not far from there, the Rodeo The gallery has found buyers for its 12 Churchman paintings from 2020. In East London, Emaline had takers for his 12 new works by Barrington, made in London during the lockdown, featuring paintings in sculptural concrete frames inscribed with rap lyrics. Prices at these shows ranged from $ 12,000 to $ 95,000. Most of the works were acquired by buyers who had not seen the pieces in person. “People have become more relaxed about buying from JPEGs,” said Katy Green, director of Rodeo in London.

Thanks to the wonders of the internet, works of such sought-after names could, in theory, have sold out at any gallery weekend, even if kept in much smaller outposts around the world of the world. art. So where does that leave London?

The British capital is a very large city with a large number of dealers scattered over a large area. Unlike more compact centers, like Berlin, Zurich or Paris (which took place last week a similar event), London is not a city that lends itself to the gallery walk format. Yet, in reality, these events, like so many others currently taking place in the art market, have become live / digital hybrids.

“Sales are mostly done online. Even our London collectors are buying on the internet, ”said Krittika Sharma, co-founder of Indigo + Madder, one of the new galleries that have sprung up over the past two years in Deptford, south-east London. , not far from Goldsmiths. , the college where famous contemporary British artists, including Damien Hirst, studied.

On the Saturday of London’s Gallery Weekend, Indigo + Madder, specializing in contemporary art from South Asia and its diaspora, had sold 10 of the 13 multimedia paintings made during the lockdown by London artist Haroun Hayward. Influenced by electronic music, African and Middle Eastern textiles, and 20th-century English landscape painting, these meticulous and eclectic images were priced between £ 3,950 and £ 650. One sold to a Swiss collector.

Hayward said he was optimistic about London’s ability to remain a vibrant arts center.

“I was kicked out of two studios by developers,” said Hayward, who now works from home in east London. “But London is pretty wild. He will always have a punk side. Children do, but not in the places we know. “

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