The landscape of the London art world is constantly evolving and changing. Twenty-five years ago, the Portobello area of West London was the place to seek out cool young artists, then Shoreditch, Spitalfields and all points east were ‘art washed’; then Fitzrovia became the place to have a gallery, and what was formerly known as ‘North Soho’ still has a lively art scene. Finally, of course, Mayfair and St James have always been important. Still, since its recent redevelopment, the traditional epicentre in Cork Street has moved west to Dover Street and Albemarle Street. Soho, always home to several galleries, now has its moment in the sun, and long may it last.
The artistic and bohemian legacy of Soho continues to attract young galleries
Of the eighteen or so galleries currently in Soho (see list below), around half have opened in the last five years, and around half are ‘upstairs operations’. They have mainly gone for the easily accessible ‘Piano Nobile’ or first floor, though in the case of Lungley Gallery (currently relocating to Fitzrovia) and Artist Room, they are located on the lofty third floor. This is because there has been a general change of business model in the art world recently, partly exacerbated by the COVID lockdown, whereby galleries tend to favour more modest premises and spend their budget on art fairs where they can expose their artists to a much wider audience.
Apart from the obvious economic considerations, there are other factors. Laurie, from Artist Room, opined: ‘Our upstairs location gives visitors and collectors a feeling like they’ve discovered something secret. Although we are centrally located, our third-floor space allows for incredible light and great views of the action on Brewer Street. The downside is the tight stairwells means that artwork deliveries can sometimes be awkward!’
The artistic and bohemian legacy of Soho continues to attract young galleries to our manor. India Rose James of Soho Review Gallery explains: ‘It’s exciting to have the gallery in Soho and be surrounded by other art spaces with things to see all the time. Being here also feels like we are part of a vibrant art ecosystem happening very close by. Laurie of Artist Room is equally enthusiastic about the area; ‘Soho has creative energy, unique history and rawness that appeal to The Artist Room’s sensibilities. It’s incredible to think that we are only a few steps away from The French House where Frances Bacon and John Deakin would while away the hours!’
Soho is now home to galleries of all shapes and sizes. The modest Smallest Gallery in Soho at 62 Dean Street is a display window where directors Philip Levine and Andreia Costa, ‘Artworks are only to be viewed from the street, so each work has created a site specifically for the gallery space’. The vast 1st floor of Sadie Coles HQ at 62 Kingly Street also has Mayfair and St James branches. It is the depth of the entire block and has a spectacular space with an enormous window onto Regent Street.
In addition to the newcomers, there are several long standing residents. Andrew Edmunds opened at 44 Lexington Street in 1974 and Frith Street gallery has been in its eponymous location since 1989. Although a relatively recent addition to Soho, the Fine Art Society, occupying the upper three floors of a beautiful Georgian building at 25 Carnaby Street, had previously traded in New Bond Street since 1876, making it one of the first commercial galleries in London.
The mix of art on offer is also varied. Andrew Edmunds specialises in English and French 18th to 19th-century prints and drawings, satire, caricature, the unusual and macabre while Maison Bertaux at 28 Greek Street, as well as serving delicious pastries, exhibits several artists better known as comedy actors, including Noel Fielding, Harry Hill and Timothy Spall. Emerging artists can find contemporary art at Amanda Wilkinson, Artist Room, Changing Room Gallery, Niru Ratnam, Rhodes Contemporary and Soho Revue Gallery. Karsten Schubert, Robert Upstone and New York gallerist Marion Goodman show more established artists.
In addition to the galleries, if you have access to Soho’s private members’ clubs, you will find some stunning art and quite likely meet some of the artists who made it. Artists have always been drawn to Soho, from Bacon and Freud in the ’50s through the YBAs in the ’80s to the current generation. One issue, probably unique to Soho that India Rose James mentioned will probably never change, ‘We do get asked if we have models upstairs!’
Top Photo: Dorothy Cross Damascus Rose Frith Street Gallery 17 Feb – 14 Apr 2022 GOLDEN SQUARE LONDON
Andrew Edmunds, 44 Lexington Street – https://www.andrewedmundsprints.com
Amanda Wilkinson, 1st floor, 18 Brewer Street – https://www.amandawilkinsongallery.com
Artist Room, 3rd floor, 76 Brewer Street – https://www.theartistroom.com
Changing Room Gallery, 13 Manette Street – https://www.changingroomgallery.com
Circa, Piccadilly Lights – https://www.circa.art
Fine Art Society, 1st floor, 25 Carnaby Street – https://www.thefineartsociety.com
Frith Street Gallery, 60 Frith Street – https://www.frithstreetgallery.com
Frith Street Gallery, 17 Golden Square – https://www.frithstreetgallery.com
Karsten Schubert, 2nd Floor, 44 Lexington Street – https://www.karstenschubert.com
Maison Bertaux, 28 Greek Street – https://www.maisonbertaux.com/art-gallery
Marion Goodman Projects, 23 Golden Square – https://www.mariangoodman.com
Niru Ratnam, 1st Floor, 23c Ganton Street – https://www.niruratnam.com
Photographers Gallery, 16 Ramillies Street – https://www.thephotographersgallery.org.uk
Rhodes Contemporary Art, 42 New Compton Street – https://www.rhodescontemporaryart.com
Robert Upstone Gallery, 1st floor, 40 Frith Street – https://www.robertupstone.com
Sadie Coles HQ, 1st floor, 62 Kingly Street – https://www.sadiecoles.co
Smallest Gallery in Soho, 62 Dean Street – https://www.thesmallestgalleryinsoho.com
Soho Revue Gallery, 1-4 Walkers Court – https://www.sohorevue.com
Groucho, 45 Dean Street – https://www.thegrouchoclub.com/art
House of St Barnabus, 1 Greek Street – https://www.hosb.org.uk/the-collective
Union Club / Martinez, 49 Greek Street – https://www.unionclub.co.uk/blog
Soho House, 40 Greek Street – https://www.sohohouse.com