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Vibrant London Gallery Scene Defies Downturn

The London gallery scene is going through an interesting time of transition in the face of the current recession.

LONDON—The London gallery scene is going through an interesting time of transition in the face of the current recession. While most businesses are tightening their belts, others are opening, expanding or simply lending support where it is needed.

Although some major galleries, such as the Lisson Gallery, White Cube and Timothy Taylor, have reduced their staffs, few have closed. The only major casualty of the economy so far is the London branch of the Yvon Lambert gallery. The gallery, which opened in Hoxton to great fanfare last October and already has established branches in Paris and New York, has decided to draw in its horns as far as London is concerned.

Lambert’s closure, though, is outweighed by a number of more positive initiatives that are taking place. Hauser & Wirth is supporting younger British artists in a new exhibition space in Swallow Street, off Piccadilly. The space, called Swallow Street, will be run independently by the curator Sarah McCrory, who also works as a curator at the highly regarded nonprofit Studio Voltaire in Clapham, south London.

McCrory sees this as an opportunity to help emerging artists at a time when most commercial galleries, while staying open, are not taking on new artists. “Galleries are not snapping up young artists at their degree shows like they used to,” says McCrory, “so artists are struggling, taking bar jobs, et cetera.” Swallow Street’s first show, which is on view through June 20, is of the work of painter Gabriel Hartley, who graduated from the Royal Academy Schools last year.

Younger artists are also likely to find a supportive venue at the new Josh Lilley Fine Art, which opens next month in Riding House Street, north of Oxford Street in the burgeoning new Fitzrovia arts district. Flora Fairbairn, a freelance curator who made her name as a talent-spotter by trawling the art schools and degree shows and mounting exhibitions at various galleries, is a co-director of the new gallery.

The big news in Fitzrovia, however, is that Steve Lazarides, the dealer who helped to put graffiti artist Banksy on the map and counts Damien Hirst among his clients, is moving in. Lazarides, who specializes in street or graffiti art (which he prefers to call “cult” art), has taken a long lease on a five-story Georgian townhouse in Rathbone Place. This is in addition to his gallery in Greek Street, Soho, which is now selling lower-priced prints, posters and multiples by his gallery artists, as well as a large gallery in Newcastle. “I started looking for a new space six months ago; but with interest rates so low, and rents much cheaper, now is as good a time as ever,” he said.

Lazarides told ARTnewsletter that it is now “five times more difficult” to sell art than it used to be, but he has still been making enough to “tick over,” and some of his artists are as sought after as ever. A photograph by Parisian artist JR, which he had sold for £5,000 six months before, fetched £26,250 ($38,000) at Sotheby’s in February, and a new set of prints by the American graffiti collective Faile sold out “within minutes” of their publication last week for £2,000 ($3,000) each.

Also fulfilling a longer-term plan is Russian-born Ilona Orel, who is opening a new, 350-square-meter (1,148-square-foot) gallery in Howick Place, Westminster, above the Phillips de Pury & Company auction rooms. Orel, a former model who opened her first gallery specializing in contemporary Russian art in Paris in 2001, launched her new gallery on April 22 with works by Andrei Molodkin, who will represent Russia in the upcoming Venice Biennale. Molodkin’s larger sculptures cost in the region of €85,000 ($110,500).

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