Bond Street and Cork Street were after the beating hearts of London’s art trade. But Bond Street has been taken more than by style brands paying rents that make even effectively-heeled dealers gasp. As for Cork Street, a massive construction project has left a hole in its centre, and a lot of galleries have currently fled.
Some have gone to the East Finish, but its distance from the centre and increasing rents have sent several art dealers scuttling back to Fitzrovia, whose former fashion showrooms are comfortably close to Mayfair.
Now there is a potential new location for art galleries: South Kensington. The district is currently wealthy in publicly funded culture, with the “Albertopolis” grouping of institutions devoted to science, natural history, fine art, style and music. The London art dealer John Martin is spearheading an revolutionary program to create a new gallery “hub” right beside these famed museums, and has teamed up with the home developer Scott Murdoch, whose business CWM is known for regenerating and rebranding underused areas in the capital, such as that retail good results story, Marylebone Higher Street.
Their project, dubbed Cromwell Place soon after the name of the street, would see a line of imposing stucco-fronted heritage buildings converted into a gallery cluster supplying 35,000 square feet of space. Below the program, the exhibition spaces on the ground floor can be configured to various sizes, according to needs above them is room for about 35 dealers to have their own offices and viewing rooms. The courtyard will be turned into a climate-controlled storage unit, portion of which may well be bonded, which means that functions could be imported temporarily with no attracting tax.
In making this strategy, Martin has drawn on his encounter each as a dealer and as one particular of the founders of the Art Dubai fair. He sees Cromwell Spot as combining the greatest of each worlds.
“Huge rent increases are forcing dealers out of their ground floors and upstairs,” he says. Indeed, that is precisely what he did last year, moving to the initial floor in Mayfair’s Albemarle Street in response to an imminent tripling of his £90,000-a-year rent. He cites the instance of a nearby gallery whose rent went from £75,000 to much more than £350,000 last year. “With the polarisation of the art trade into the mega-galleries and the rest, the smaller players have a tough time locating somewhere to prosper and grow,” he adds.
Dealers at Cromwell Spot will be in a position to use the 16 ground-floor gallery spaces for their exhibitions, but will not have the fixed expenses there will be a consistently changing programme of shows in two-week cycles. “It will work for so numerous different organisations — for international galleries wanting a London presence for London galleries who require to move from increasing rents, and these wanting to move to a more central location,” Martin says.
As in a fair, the galleries and exhibitions will be submitted to a choice committee. “The opening hours will be really considerably like a fair, with days for our members and invited guests, when the space is intimate and private, then public days,” Martin says. “At present our proposal is for public days on Friday to Sunday, with the location closed on Monday.” The target, he says, “is to provide a two-week exhibition at about ten per cent to 20 per cent of the cost of performing an typical modern art fair for one week.”
Cromwell Spot is portion of a chunk of South Kensington that belongs to a household trust, administered by South Kensington Estates. It has agreed a 25-year lease for the project, and its chief executive, Tim Butler, is supportive. “This is the opportunity to do something transformational which reflects the culture and the heritage of the location,” he says. The scheme also fits in with SKE’s policy of encouraging individual businesses, whose original owners are nonetheless involved, rather than massive chains. Butler says there is already powerful support from London’s arts neighborhood: “They recognise what this idea means for the international arts world and London’s cultural scene. And it is in our interest to take a long-term view and invest in the future of our buildings, and the South Kensington area as a whole.”
Will it function? South Kensington, regardless of its museums, is nonetheless scruffy around the edges, particularly by the underground station. But there have been improvements with the upgrade of Exhibition Road, and if it lacks the concentration of smart restaurants and shops of some ritzier districts, the same goes for other London places that nevertheless sustain art gallery clusters. South Kensington is close to the city centre, and a fast-altering exhibition programme could indeed be a magnet for art lovers — and provide a increase for the whole area.
The spending budget is up to £10m, even though the buildings themselves, currently used as offices, are in good repair and will only want “a light touch” of restoration. The project as a complete would commence in 2018, with some exhibition regions probably opening earlier, and the final phase is set for 2020. Martin is seeking “expressions of interest” from art galleries, and is in pre-application mode with nearby organizing authorities. “By the summer I consider we ought to have a clear concept of the sort of galleries that will make it operate and then we aim to get the applications ready in the autumn — as soon as we have a date for opening,” he says.
But currently he is ambitiously hunting beyond South Kensington, with a view to establishing comparable operations about the planet. “We have been talking to possible partners in the US and Asia,” he says enthusiastically. “And I’m certain our members would really like us to supply a worldwide platform for them as properly.”
Georgina Adam is art industry editor-at-huge of The Art Newspaper
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