Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery, SE11 (020 3141 9320) – 10 minutes walk from The Academy – opens on October 8th with John Hoyland: Power Stations, which will run for up to six months. And, it’s free!
Interesting background article here by Nancy Durrant of The Times:
“A few days ago, a work of art called Heaven went on display as part of a new, sea-themed exhibition, The Big Blue, at Ordovas gallery in Mayfair, London. The piece is a new version by Damien Hirst of the artist’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living — otherwise and popularly known as the pickled shark.
And why not? If nothing else, its notoriety alone will almost certainly ensure a spike in footfall for the gallery, which by virtue of its position competes for attention against some of the art world’s biggest fish — Hauser & Wirth, Pace, Gagosian, David Zwirner et al.
No such exotic specimen will lure punters to Hirst’s own establishment, Newport Street Gallery, which opens to the public next Thursday on a quiet back street in Lambeth, south London. Apart from visitors to the nearby Imperial War Museum, the area is so unaccustomed to passing trade that I had to check exactly what it was called, even though I live round there. The gallery will be free to visit and, come the new year, also home to Pharmacy 2, a “destination restaurant” modelled on Hirst’s original Pharmacy (1998-2003) in Notting Hill.
It has been established by Hirst to house exhibitions plucked from his extensive art collection of more than 3,000 works. That collection includes pieces by the likes of Jeff Koons, Francis Bacon and Bruce Nauman as well as Hirst’s YBA contemporaries Sarah Lucas, Gavin Turk, Tracey Emin and Mat Collishaw. There are also pieces by Banksy, whose recent Dismaland project is thought to have brought £20 million worth of business to Weston-super-Mare.
Yet you won’t see any of them next Thursday either. Instead, Hirst has elected to launch his new £25 million gallery — designed by Caruso St John Architects — with a show of work by the now rather underrated British abstract painter John Hoyland, a fellow Yorkshireman (from Sheffield — Hirst grew up in Leeds) who died in 2011 at the age of 76. His is not a name to conjure with, at least as far as the casual gallery-goer is concerned — but you know what? They should go. My goodness they should go.
The gallery is spread across three buildings and 37,000 square feet. There are six exhibition spaces split over two levels and linked at each end by two of the handsomest stairwells I’ve seen since Tate Britain unveiled its Busby Berkeley-style Caruso St John spiral staircase in 2013. Hirst has pulled off something special. You can see the hand of an artist in these spaces, someone who knows how art ought to be shown. They are stunning — and the show itself is something of a revelation.
Hirst first met Hoyland in 1992 — the year the first shark went on display and sold for a measly £50,000 — and started collecting his work in 2009. Hoyland, for his part, was extremely rude about the YBAs and about Hirst in particular, but later became friendly with the younger artist, whose opening gambit of calling him Britain’s greatest abstract painter to his face might have oiled those wheels somewhat.
This exhibition of 33 paintings, curated by Hirst and titled Power Stations, isn’t a full-scale retrospective. It instead focuses on the pivotal period between 1964 and 1982 when Hoyland was at the height of his powers. Hung chronologically, it traces neatly the painter’s development, starting soon after Hoyland saw the 1963 Anthony Caro exhibition at the Whitechapel (he would later describe Caro as the greatest living artist). There, Caro showed for the first time his radical large-scale sculptures in brightly painted welded steel.
At the time Hoyland was hanging out with the likes of William Tucker and the new generation of sculptors coming out of Saint Martin’s School of Art. At once, on entering the first of these huge, light-filled galleries (a wow moment, not just for the space but also for the impact of the colours in the paintings, which seem to vibrate off the walls), you can see the sculptural influence. On enormous canvases, he experiments with space and colour, mucking about with the picture plane so that your sense of perspective is completely thrown.
With their linear structure and floating blocks of colour, it’s easy to start comparing some of the early work here with the titans of American abstraction such as Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko. Hoyland visited the US on a bursary in 1964 and met both painters (he was rather in awe of Rothko) and in 1967 moved there for a time, seduced by the hype around the abstract expressionists. Yet eventually he found himself getting bored with what he saw as a repetition of format — too much cool, not enough emotion, not enough immediate impact. “Paintings are there to be experienced. They are events,” he later wrote in the statement for his Serpentine retrospective in 1979. Returning, he settled in London and Wiltshire (although he wasn’t entirely in love with England, calling it, in a talk first given in 1994, “a small, bland, mean little island”.)
If you have any love for abstraction, it’s impossible not to enjoy these paintings. The sheer vitality of their zinging colours is invigorating. Even a set of slightly surprising works that were painted soon after an American road trip with the jazz singer Eloise Laws and which have a dominant colour not dissimilar to that of Germolene are evocative of that buzzing desert light.
And even when he’s laying it on especially thick, building up the layers of paint in the later works here, Hoyland keeps his colours vivid and clear, never allowing them to descend into muddiness. When Hoyland is exhibited these days, it’s the paintings from the later 1980s onwards that we tend to see — and rarely in great number. This, then, is an opportunity to re-evaluate.
I’ve always liked Hoyland’s work but I hadn’t quite realised just how good he was. This is exactly, I imagine, what Hirst wants me to think. So be it. I find it rather touching that an artist who has, by his own admission, “always loved the idea of being a painter” but absolutely definitely isn’t, should use his considerable resources and influence to champion one who absolutely definitely is.
There will be those who question his motives, spending £25 million of his own money (yes, every penny) to open a gallery to show art that he has collected. Hirst is unquestionably Britain’s most famous living artist, worth (and estimates inevitably vary) at least £200 million. His 2012 Tate retrospective was the most visited solo exhibition in the museum’s history, proving that sharks and sheep, skulls and diamonds still draw the hordes.
Artistically, however, his star has waned. The old ideas feel old. Money isn’t everything (especially when you have so much of it already) and you could argue that this is an attempt by the artist, now 50, to take control of a legacy that is in danger of falling decidedly flat.
Fine. Less than a fortnight ago the US collector Eli Broad opened in Los Angeles his own museum, the Broad — also to house his collection and also free — to a general hurrah. And he’s a billionaire. In Britain’s economic climate, anyone putting his or her own money into a high-quality cultural institution and flinging open its doors to the public deserves applause and respect.
Granted, Hirst has a fight on his hands to get people in — I can’t stress enough how obscure this spot is, although it’s actually a 15-minute walk from Tate Britain and less than 1 minute from the well-established (but also rarely visited) Beaconsfield contemporary art centre — but the fact is, he’s done it. Who honestly cares why?
And remember, Hirst has previous when it comes to curating. It was at Freeze, the exhibition he curated in a London Docklands warehouse in 1988, that the world came to know of Sarah Lucas, Gary Hume, Michael Landy, Angus Fairhurst, Collishaw and others. Perhaps this new incarnation will prove Hirst’s lasting return to form.”