Cromwell Place: London's most exciting art space reopens

By Juliet Herd | 24 May 2021 | Culture, Art

The pioneering hub shaking up the art world invites visitors back for the first time since November

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It may have officially opened briefly last year, but there was a new-launch buzz at London’s most exciting new arts space, Cromwell Place, when it reopened its doors this week.

Having been forced to close last November within a month of opening due to the Covid-19 national lockdown, there was barely any time for this visionary venture to properly get off the ground. If the enthusiastic chatter among gallery owners on their first day back is anything to go by, though, Cromwell Place, South Kensington, is off to a flying start, second-time around.

The first of its kind globally, this unique arts membership organisation provides a flexible hub for UK and international galleries, dealers, curators, collectors and other art professionals, offering exhibition, storage and work space, including hot desking.

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The star of the show is, without question, the building itself – comprising five Grade II listed Georgian townhouses connected by an ingenious link bridge at the rear and housing 15 gallery spaces as well as two rather sophisticated club rooms for members (watch out Soho House!), it combines old-world charm with modern-day cool and design wizardry.

The conversion is the work of London architecture studio Buckley Gray Yeoman, which has been careful to retain period features such as staircases with ironwork balustrades and curled timber handrails, fireplaces, cornicing and ceiling roses, while introducing innovative new spaces such as the striking Pavilion Gallery – the largest of the galleries - in a mews courtyard behind the main terrace. 

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The club rooms, featuring plush velvet banquettes, intimate raised booths and central bar, are designed by Lambart & Browne, with a menu curated by Michelin-starred chef Ollie Dabbous, available from the autumn. Members will no doubt be able to draw inspiration from the fact that the carefully restored rooms maintain the palette and aesthetic integrity of one of the building’s most famous historic inhabitants, the Victorian portraitist Sir John Lavery.

Applying a flexible working model to the art market makes perfect sense given the global and multidisciplinary nature of the business, yet this is the first time it’s been put into practice under one roof. Cromwell Place has been devised to create a more effective way for arts businesses and institutions to thrive and survive within an increasingly competitive international art market. With nearly 50 members so far, including the likes of Oliver Hoare Ltd (antiques & antiquities), Stair Sainty Gallery (Old Masters), and A3-Arndt Art Agency (contemporary art), the exhibition programmes promise to be robust with a strong multi-cultural flavour.

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International members range from Sao Paulo’s Galeria Nara Roesler and Beirut’s Galerie Tanit to New York’s Alexander Gray Associates and Dubai’s The Third Line.

The current schedule includes British works of art spanning 500 years at the Daniel Katz Gallery; sculptures representing the human condition by Hanneke Beaumont at Bowman Sculpture; new bodies of works by Josefeina Nelimarkka, Alexander Montague-Sparey and Olga Grotova, presented by Vanessa Vainio, and an exhibition of work by Berlin-based artist Robin Rhode at Lehmann Maupin. On the fifth floor, J&J Rawlin is showing prints and drawings by such artists as Tracey Emin, Eduardo Paolozzi and Edward Burra until 30 May – exhibitions usually run from two to six weeks.

“The artists love it,” testifies John Martin of the John Martin Gallery, who is hosting a group show in one of the ground floor galleries. “There’s lots of space and high ceilings and it’s nice to be somewhere different to Mayfair. Old Masters aren’t [traditionally] allowed white walls but this is really fresh and you get to re-evaluate objects.”

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Other gallerists agreed that the collaborative vibe of the building led to more open exchanges between art professionals and even allowed for more sharing of key collectors. Wandering through the different sized galleries, what is striking is how many new works have been produced during the pandemic with artists adapting to the restrictions by utilising materials and facilities available to them while confined to their homes. In the case of Exeter-based photographer Brendan Barry (Black Box Projects), he created his most recent body of work, Wildflowers picked on walks with Bea, inspired by daily walks with his daughter during lockdown. He would bring the flowers home and arrange them into still lives, which he would then capture using a camera obscura and darkroom he’d constructed out of his garden shed. Robin Rhode’s exhibition is aptly entitled, The Backyard is My World, featuring photographs taken in the backyard of his family home in Johannesburg.

Cromwell Place managing director Preston Benson summed up the new creative mood: “The pandemic has accelerated trends in the global art market and we now find Cromwell Place’s flexible and collaborative community at the heart of this changed landscape.

“We are not only able to showcase a wider selection of UK art by supporting UK dealers to maintain a more effective year-round exhibition programme, but can bring international galleries, advisors and collectors here to London, helping to grow the quality and diversity of the capital’s cultural scene”. 

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One of the most exciting aspects of this new arts hub is the emphasis on partnerships with public institutions, charities and non-profit organisations, offering honorary memberships for museum directors and senior curators. 

Next month, there’s an exhibition of the Royal College of Art’s painting and sculpture graduate shows 2020-2021; in July, the Drawing Room, the only non-profit gallery in the UK and Europe dedicated to the presentation of international contemporary drawing, will host its drawing biennial exhibition and auction finale, and in November, the National Portrait Gallery will stage its 2021 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize exhibition in the Pavilion Gallery.

“We are proud to be working with our honorary members on some fantastic projects,” says membership director May Calil. “They are a vital part of our community and supporting them, whether it is via an exhibition or an event, is a great privilege.” 

Cromwell Place is open to the public from Wednesday through Saturday 10am – 6pm, and 10am - 4pm on Sundays. Tuesdays are reserved for invitation only visits.

cromwellplace.com