If you have read any of the posts on the Lives of Artists or the #Class series you probably noticed a big nod to Gallerist Magda Sawon. Her approach, increasingly whether this side of the Atlantic or that is showing a refreshing and healthy trend.

Magda Sawon at #Class
Magda Sawon at #Class

image courtesy James Wagner and Barry Hoggard’s (brilliant) blog

Ok this is a huge lift from a previous post. BUT I just cannot stress the point enough – in order to start out, these issues of smaller, different and driven by art and artists seem to make all the difference:

“Magda took a small gallery from scratch; she arrived from Poland in the 80’s and as far as I could tell, apart from her qualifications in art she had precious little else but an idea.

She started her gallery space in East Village in an area that had a number of other galleries. The way she described it almost sounded like a mini shop in as much as it wasn’t all-intercom-door-stuff, complete with (possibly) pristine white walls.

She also mentioned one crucial thing – that she was Enjoying It – but that she didn’t even know how to write out an invoice – so when she got her first sale she had to go to a neighbouring gallery to ask how; and it all started from there.

Then she noticed that one by one, the other galleries were moving and moving to big rent in Manhattan. She didn’t get it straight away, but soon realised that her custom had started to dwindle; there is some business thing about opening close to a similar trade and custom will flow between.

Which in hind sight Magda said made sense in pre-internet times, and so she felt obliged to move on with the other galleries. And so Postmasters became a Manhattan entity, but also different.”

Postmasters Gallery

Postmasters Gallery (ok, short of images of the gallery full stop – but this google streetview caught its shuttered persona!)

“Magda kept her vision and her artists and didn’t grab at the big art fares (which she said also increasingly cost an arm and a leg while at the same time being a bit thin on the ground for her tastes) so she saved money on those and went to smaller *more interesting* gatherings all the while noticing the shift in technology that saw digital art and other areas forming.

Looking after her artists and keeping very much to her view of and their works meaning.”

Victoria Miro has been in the news of late with a new show In The Company of Alice which is collectively showing various artists approach to portraiture (including a few of my favourites; John Currin, Peter Doig, Grayson Perry, Chris Ofili…and more).

But I was also enthused on reading an account of a side of her that I never really knew about which echoed similar sentiments: starting out small and then (without moving) from the area (Cork Street) it too became an art hub in many ways that she didn’t identify with; the overly-market led approach. So looking for a slightly bigger space she moved to Hoxton not to a bigger space because it’s bigger, as many who are involved with the larger commercial galleries/museums do. But to an area that had similar types of spaces which appealed to her artists.

“The London art “village” that Victoria operated in suddenly became a market-driven megalopolis. ‘I was aware from the beginning that a change was in the air’.”

Extracts from Sean OHagan’s : Victoria Queen of Hearts interview for the Observer.

The article I read was in fact so similar to the questions and answers surrounding the quandaries of Magda’s discussion relating to similar things like gender and looking out for the artist’s interests. Miro being a woman in a mainly male-art-buyer domain and all the hustling that goes on.

“It’s so market driven now and most of the mega-dealers are men, some of them can be quite aggressive and persistent when they go after an artist.”

“I am – a woman dealer. I know it’s a cliché but I do think women approach the work on a much more intuitive level; it’s less about market and machismo and more about artistic value.”

Gender aside (you know what I’m like on sweeping categories) although art-and-the-straight-white-male cliché is seemingly still true. One thing’s for sure though, the opening up of locations is no longer typically site specific. As the art market has literally gone global and so the need to be closely proximate to the really hugely commercial = successful? galleries is not so much of a precedent for the *passing trade* of dealers and buyers. It still helps not to be stuck out on a limb somewhere physically inaccessible – but that clique-need-to-be-in-one-spot, one country, one city, is changing.

A similar phenomenon happened when Hales Gallery was set up in the mid 90’s.

The way the owner Paul Hedge went about finding the location and adapting to it, made so much sense. And in the end possibly helped contribute to Hales longevity.

When I visited back in ’98 Paul said he had no formal art knowledge (although not clueless and totally enthusiastic). He was a postman and without giving up his day job he and his business partner acquired a one storey building with basement which had two huge back doors and back yard. The front facing the high street, directly opposite the market.

Deptford High Street market
Deptford High Street

wiki images

They created a cafe on the ground floor and kept everything open plan so the kitchen had a counter and the cooking and service went on in tandem. Downstairs were the loos and the gallery – I know that kind of on-the-way-to-the-loo use of space has been done to great effect – but this was sort of just how it was – because the gallery space was not part of the money making business equation at that point they aimed to get the cafe earning their living – from the market stall holders and passing custom.

All the while building up their artists events and all while the market traders getting a firsthand view – on the way to the loo –  of people like Tomoko Takahashi’s pile of TV screens alongside artists who had thrown a lump of clay at a wall – and Paul said, expressing their opinions on both.

The gallery also had it’s none fruit and veg market visitors including Saatchi a few years on. And it can’t have gone without notice that although not in the London arty square mile it was on the same turf as the salubrious Goldsmiths College of Art – so dragging interested parties away from art-central can’t have been that difficult. They were in a good spot – built it up slowly (or relatively over 10-15 years) with the emphasis on the cafe as bread and butter.

The after-hours use of the cafe came into its own as exhibition launches and special nights became more the norm. Paul mentioned that increasingly the High street and surround was looking like a mini–trendy-Cork Street as more galleries opened up. In 2004 Hales moved to a more time relevant location North of the river (bit like the Postmasters East Village/Manhattan move) to Bethnal Green Lane, Shoreditch – which is still a bit East Laaandan but edgy enough and close enough to Brick Lane to keep itself out of the Chelsea and even the Southbank/Bermondsey art-des-res of choice.

They have moved though, and moved more central regardless of the river. They have the same four people involved with a steady and interesting flow of events. Maybe the space is a little bigger as they now occupy the Tea Building.

Hales Gallery

The Tea Building, Hales Gallery new space of 6 years

I truly believed Paul Hedge when he said you can do it and I do even more now, on seeing how they have also kept their mojo – especially when so many have flown the nest, packed up their art catalogues and white cubes and ventured to business pastures new.

So it was with equal glee that I came across another new gallery space in Nottingham this week. Again opening at a time of recession but also on the back of the new Nottingham Contemporary Art Gallery which is the East Midlands now-main-hub-gallery space.

A small space, called Cuadros in Hockley, a hop, skip and a jump away from Notts Contemporary, filled with interesting new art; not a bronze living room sculpture in sight! (I have a thing about that, sorry, but it stuck in my throat slightly when visiting Raw gallery at Shad Thames; Raw was a brilliant space. But some of the other spaces were a wee bit ever-so-neat-hushed and chock full of expensive! bronze statues, that sort of left me, personally very cold).

Cuadros on the other hand, has all the intriguing and accessible vibe of a contemporary gallery space.


Cuadros, Nottingham

image courtesy of Creativeboom

Hockley is also historically an area of creative input. Paul Smith was born in a suburb in Nottingham and in the early 80’s opened his original (and still functioning) shop in Byard Lane. G Force opening around the same time stayed in the same shop in Hockley up until last year, now preferring to trade on the Internet. Like a lot of inner city off the airport-style-shopping-routes Hockley district itself has not really changed ie; always leaving itself more accessible to independent fashion and the like.

This area has always been interesting. Shops with designs from Dries Van Noten etc., have come and gone, Wild Clothing an off the wall ‘vintage’ has been there since punk was a baby. A fantastically inventive interiors shop with prices to match rubbed shoulders with Void the Goth shop of choice.

Two new independent shops have just opened one vintage source and the other with lovely eclectic and elegant women’s wear with an enticing shop window reminiscent of that unsettling edgy side of Victorian decor… just a little bit curiosity shop!. And the hub of art house cinema at The Broadway is round the corner.

All in all the perfect spot for a new and interesting gallery space.

The owner George Thornton will also be contributing to the Lives of Artists debate. When I spoke to him, first and foremost he stressed the fact, like Paul Hedge and Magda Sawon, that he wanted to have a direction with the artists – to follow his – and his artists agenda; George having, unlike Magda and Paul, already worked in the commercial art market for 10 years. What better way to understand it.

New and exciting times with creativity bourgeoning again!


4 square it! Cuadros, Nottingham

George has an exhibition currently running until the end of the week (closed Monday’s) at Cuadros Contemporary Art on Heathcoat Street Nottingham; A Celebration of the City runs from 17th until 24th July in Hockley – go! go! go!

Back on Wednesday with more……