Such is the pressure on gallery space that quite important exhibitions now take place in all sorts of strange places. Sometimes, quite literally, they hide in plain sight. This is the case with the very substantial show of work by the late John Bellany, who died just over four years ago.
Bellany had at one time a very substantial reputation. In 1986 he was the first living artist to be given a solo show at the National Portrait Gallery. At his peak, he was spoken of in the same breath as then-celebrated figurative painters such as Leon Kossoff and Lucian Freud. Now, thanks in part to a late-life decline due to alcoholism, but also to changing tastes, he has somewhat sunk from view.
Determined to change this situation, the collector Frank Cohen has filled Fortnum’s windows, directly opposite Burlington House, with examples of Bellany’s work. There are many more pictures on view inside the store as well. Despite this, there has been little echo in the press. Basically, only a piece in the Telegraph, in a section rather quixotically entitled Luxury Art. It seems that London is not about to follow an example set some years back in New York, when artists, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns chief among them, kick-started careers with displays in the windows of Bonwit Teller. Andy Warhol also did windows, including some of his own paintings, for the same store. But times were different then, and these were feisty young artists at the beginning of their careers, Who knows what the effect would be now, if Johns’ work were moved from the R.A., where it is currently on view, to Fortnum’s windows, bang-opposite, where every passer-by would encounter it. Perhaps you now have to be fully certificated as a street artist, like for example, Banksy, to get people to look at your work if it appears in a street, for everyone to see, rather than in the holy hush of a gallery.
One is presented with a slightly different situation at Whiteleys; the former department store turned shopping mall in Queensway, just north of Kensington Gardens.
Here, so it turns out, there is a truly enormous gallery space up on the top – fourth- floor of the building. I say, ‘so it turns out’, because the building’s escalators stop short at the floor beneath and, while there is certainly a lift that goes that high, and a button to press, there is no signage in the lift itself to tell you what might await you if you choose to push it.
At present, the space is occupied by a rather interesting exhibition curated by Lawrence van Hagen, entitled What’s Up – The Americas.
This runs until November 5th and consists of work by American and South American artists, some of them, such as Sam Francis, rather well known. There is also, in fact, a website for the exhibition, at
(yes, co not com), but this list of names this gives does not correspond very closely with what is actually on view. Go and see for yourself: Queensway is a bustling shopping street, there are two tube stations very close to Whiteleys: Queensway and (closer still) Bayswater. It’s closer to civilization than, say, White Cube’s big – not in fact quite as big – space in Bermondsey, and it’s a lot easier to get at by public transport. And it’s free.
Words: Edward Lucie- Smith Top Photo: Sara Faith
What’s Up – The Americas Until 23 October Whiteleys Bayswater London – Free
John Bellany: Fortnum’s X Frank 17 Until 28 October Fortnum & Mason London – Free