By Jenny Judova
Exploring the London art scene I came to a conclusion that most galleries open for one of two reasons. The first — it’s a carefully thought through business with investors and stakeholders, the second — opportunistic luck, where an artist or a curator came in possession of a venue at no cost or a tiny fee. Turns out I was wrong there is a third type of gallery, it takes advantage of the resources available, and usually comes out of a need and want to show new work, I introduce to you the Living Room Gallery.
This week I caught up with the founders (and residents) of 38b and Ladette Space to find out what its like to have a gallery in your living room.
Started in 2010 by Eva Rowson and Luke Drozd, over 5 years 38b has become notorious in small circles having been invited to talk at ICA, and won the Art Licks Weekend Workweek Prize in 2013.
Eva Rowson and Luke Drozd at 38b, photograph by Mary Ashton Ellis
On a regular day 38b is an average size living room, filled with the regular living room things: couch, bookshelves, coffee table, desk, armchairs, tv, plants, and a lot of artworks and ornaments. I can see how everything can be moved out but still there are features that are built into the room like the bookshelf. I look at Luke and Eva ‘So what do you do for an exhibition? Do you move everything out and create a white cube type off space, or do you encourage the artist to have a dialogue with the domestic space?’ ‘Now the space embraces the domesticity,’ explain Eva and Luke ‘before in the early days we tried to cheat, we would move all the furniture out and cover up the bookshelf, but there would still be evidence that this is an inhabited space — the couch and the TV would stay in the room. Although this began to shift when artists such as Jennifer Bailey began to ask that more of the living room stayed in place.’
38b as a living room, photograph by Mary Ashton Ellis
Luke and Eva are both artists who studied in Leeds. Talking about the Leeds art scene they pointed out that there were almost no galleries in Leeds where artists could show their work, thus if you wanted to show you had to organise the exhibition yourself, and many people showed in basements, empty shops and pubs. The absence of galleries and the abundance of artists meant that artist knew they could not really be ‘discovered’ by a gallery and that developed a DIY art scene — if you want to be shown, show your work yourself. This DIY attitude stayed with the couple after they moved to London and when Luke finished a series of works he wanted to show they decided to take advantage of their living room.
38b as a living room, photograph by Mary Ashton Ellis
‘Is it hard to live when there is an exhibition in your living room?’ I ask. Eva explains that its harder with some and easier with others. During ‘Contents May Be All Kinds Of Wonderful Drawings’ Mick Welbourn and Mike Ryder covered up the TV and the couch — so for the weekend there was nowhere to sit in the room. Because the show is on for just one weekend there is very little inconvenience.
Contents May Be All Kinds Of Wonderful; Drawings by Mick Welbourn and Mike Ryder, 38b, 2014 © 38b
‘What about security? After all its strangers who come into your flat?’ Eva explains that at first they were cautious inviting people and it was friends and friends of friends, but now they have their address on the project’s website, they list events, and many strangers do come but so far they did not have any issues, people understand that this is a home and respect that.
The word that keeps being repeated over the course of the interview is ‘generosity’. Eva and Luke are generous with their space, they do not take commission on the work that is sold, neither do they charge the artists to exhibit. When they can they help the artists get to London and contribute to the travel fees. That generosity comes back in the discussions they have and the interest that the space generates. They won the Art Licks weekend prize, they have been invited to numerous talks, and they developed a community.
‘What advice would you give yourself 5 years ago?’ I ask, there is silence ad then Luke replies ‘buy drill and repaint the walls, you will be doing this for the next 5 years.’
The Ladette Space
When I came to Ladette Space they had one hour to go until the opening of Ben Westley Clarke’s exhibition ‘The Cock Tavern Paintings part 1’. Located in a regular block of flats, I expected to see a regular flat instead I walked into a gallery. The flat looked and felt like a gallery: a tidy table with publications and the press release in the small hallway, a perfectly square room with paintings on the wall. This was a dramatic difference to the cosy domesticity of 38b. I was so surprised that the first thing that came out of my mouth is ‘Where is all the furniture?’ Elena Colman the director, owner, resident, and curator smiled ‘its in another room, it was moved for the exhibition’. I still cannot get over how much the space looks like a gallery, rather than a living room, how much it feels like a press view before the private view than a flat party.
Elena Colman at Ladette Space
We sit down for a discussion. Elena started Ladette Space out of a frustration with the existing state of things, and the lack of space to show her work. She points out an issue that is rarely voiced — at university artists are encouraged to do ambitious projects, once they leave university there is no space for them to show ambitious work — if they are in a group show the gallery usually asks for smaller work, work that is sellable, or work that ‘fits’ the work of others. If the young artist decides to show the work independently an ambitious piece needs an ambitious venue and that requires a budget that few young artists have. After moving into an apartment with a living room she decided to host ambitious and challenging work that otherwise would not be shown.
Elena Colman at Ladette Space
The room is usually emptied from any furniture and turned into a white cube type of space, the opening takes place on a Friday, and the exhibition is open for two weekends. ‘Isnt it hard to live with the work? It’s not like you can leave the gallery when it’s in your flat’ I ask, and Elena gives a great answer ‘Sometimes, but I find it very luxurious, I get to live with ambitious installation which I would not be able to afford otherwise.’ I ask about the security, and her response is similar to that of 38b — so far there were no issues. Elena is also very careful where she lists the exhibition — she does it only on art websites, she never lists with Time Out or big publications meant for the general public. Thus the people who do come come for the work not for a party.
Ben Westley Clarke’s exhibition ‘The Cock Tavern Paintings part 1’.
As our conversation continues I realise that comparisons with a gallery go beyond the looks — each exhibition is organised 6 months in advance. Each show has six months of work, studio visits, and conversations behind it. Each show has a publication. Each exhibition is invigilated (when a show is on Elena invigilates from 12 till 6pm). The careful programme, the quality of the publications, the deep understanding of the audience and the aim of the space, the smart budgeting and planning, the professionalism, it’s all incredible. I’ve seen mid-career galleries do a sloppier job. ‘Are you planning to expand, and maybe open a commercial gallery?’ I ask, ‘No,’ Elena replies ‘I am considering to cut back and do fewer exhibitions, I need to concentrate on my own art practice, I want to be known as an artist not a curator.’ Although I understand this, part of me feels sad — the world is losing a very good gallerist.
My conclusion? It’s amazing, and it is defiantly not the ‘easy’ substitute to a gallery or the lazy alternative, it is a gallery, and it takes as much work as a gallery. It takes careful consideration and programming. It takes a lot of work and dedication.
It’s an art nerd dream. Because the galleries are in flats they list only on art websites not the general public websites, their aim is not outreach and drag-in-as-many-people-as-you-can but to have a conversation with the people who want to talk about art. People who come to these events are those who always go to art events, who live and breath art — and this is another reason why I advise checking out these galleries.
You make the rules. You can turn your home into a white cube, you can invite artists to create a dialogue with your living room, or put together a crazy installation — you can do what you want to do as there are no expectations and no How To book for a domestic gallery.
Ladette Space will be open this weekend (14–15th of March 2015) and showingBen Westley Clarke’s exhibition ‘The Cock Tavern Paintings part 1’.
I cannot advise these events strongly enough!