While East London has for sometime held the title of avant-garde hotspot, the art world’s attention has moved in a southerly direction over the River Thames. In recent years, Bankside – the winding stretch of water from Waterloo to Wapping – has added a whole new host of galleries to its name in the shadow of the Tate Modern. The Wapping Project, Poppy Sebire, White Cube and the Jerwood Gallery are just some of galleries to be found in the area.
Located in the pointy shadow of Renzo Piano’s Shard building, the latest entrant on the scene is Vitrine Bermondsey Street helmed by youthful gallerist Alys Williams. While it may be easy to draw comparisons with the East London story, Williams is keen to draw a distinction. “The issue for the area (East London) was always how far out of the centre it was and the distance from Mayfair and established collectors. There has been a recent move back to the centre with a large number of East End galleries, so it will be interesting to see how things develop in the coming years.”
Williams believes Bermondsey’s proximity to the City and changing demographic earns it brownie points with galleries and collectors. “New project spaces and galleries are popping up here every day so it feels like there is an amazing and unusual mix of the two things existing in the one area.”
While Vitrine Bermondsey Street may be the first commercial space helmed by Williams, the Central St Martins graduate launched Vitrine Bermondsey Square in 2010. With a commitment to presenting emerging art practices and ideas from the unique aspect of a 16 metre long window (with exhibitions viewable 24-hours a day), the gallery was a bold inclusion on a square designed as a mixed residential/commercial development by property developer Igloo.
Williams feels the space has been of immense artistic benefit. “We wanted to work with London’s most exciting and thought-provoking artists and see what they could make of the space. Exhibitions quickly took on a style that toyed with an ambiguity between exhibiting a body of work and a site-responsive installation.” In future, she intends to use the space in Bermondsey Square to complement the programme at Vitrine Bermondsey Street.<br />
At the first private view at the Vitrine Bermondsey Street space for artist Richard Gasper, supported by Bordeaux Wine Investments and Colourcentric and followed by a party at the Bermondsey Square Hotel, the bustling PV crowd was confronted by giant resin lamps with twisted wires and suspended coconuts on metallic canvasses. They were then guided to the Bermondsey Square space to view surreal black-white photographic prints of giant lobsters.
“Many of the collectors in attendance were more used to buying art in the more traditional centre of Mayfair”, says Williams. “Some had not even been to Bermondsey before. All felt that the area, and Vitrine’s position in it, was exciting. Forty per cent of work sold on opening night, which bodes extremely well for the future of the gallery. We have already had a good deal of interest in our next solo show, opening after Frieze, with work from Bruce Ingram.” Williams says the profiles of her clients are varied, including both seasoned collectors and younger collectors looking to start private collections and interested in new artists.
“We have attracted more established collectors linked with larger organisations and galleries and a number of our artists have attracted interest from high-profile clients, which in turn brings more interest to the gallery as we develop our reputation and we are seen as trustworthy selectors of investible talent.” She recently sold two large Justin Eagle prints to an art consultant at Christies for his own personal collection, and several of Vitrine’s ‘Editions’ to prominent members of White Cube and Art Review as well as numerous young collectors from the world of finance. “At this stage, I am aware that my role is very much about us building lasting relationships with collectors and artists.”
So what advice would she offer new collectors?
“Identify what you are looking to achieve with your collection, as a financial investment but also as an investment of interest, understanding or appreciation. Look at as much work as you can, ask questions and gather information about the artists you are thinking about buying. Allowing a gallery to work with you as you do this will benefit the process as we can offer experience and knowledge.” She advises collectors to get in touch with galleries prior to an exhibition as you can get previews, advance information, artist visits and potential pre-exhibition sales – “which is what established collectors will normally favour,” she adds.
Vitrine offers studio visits to collectors to see work outside of the formal exhibition space. “We started this in 2011 and it has been a huge success. We arrange a tour of between 3 and 6 artist studios over an afternoon with a small group of collectors. We can tailor these to the collector’s interests if we have already begun a dialogue with him or her.”
For more information, see www.vitrinegallery.co.uk