RIGHT OF REPLY : Go west, silly man
Cold and exclusive? Pshaw! Angela Flowers defends the commercial gallery
Thursday 23 March 1995
He misunderstands the first role of any art gallery: to show excellent work. By that criterion, the Marlborough, Waddington's, Anthony d'Offay, the Lisson and others rank with any in the world. The art is beautifully displayed, hours are long, and it's all free. What more could you ask? Some weekends, over 100 people visit us in Hackney. Only a small proportion buy anything: but that isn't the point.
All my friends in the gallery game love art in general and believe passionately in what they show. They want the work to be seen - and, if at all possible, sold. So do the artists. Galleries can nurture the artist and his or her career. Some artists may indeed have a "phobia" (Glancey's word) against galleries. Given their lonely working lives and (often) lack of due recognition, you can't blame artists for being occasionally phobic. But by and large the gallery / artist relationship works well, and to mutual advantage.
The proof lies in the length of many such associations. The first artist I ever showed was the brilliant Patrick Hughes. He's still with me 25 years later, painting (and selling) better than ever. Artists sometimes pass through long, lean spells, sustained only by the financial support of their galleries. Others owe their start and eventual success to gallery owners who believed in them when nobody else showed any interest - and that has applied to West Enders as well as to ourselves and our many East End contemporaries.
We all depend, though, on the third element in the gallery equation: the people who come. These aren't the wine-swilling gossips of Glancey's imagination, but a motley crowd: artists in profusion, students in hordes, visitors from abroad, critics, scholars, lay art-lovers and, of course, the buyers. In my experience, they aren't "arty-smarty" people driven by vanity or social ambition, as Glancey unfondly imagines. They are serious patrons, good judges who take time and care over their decisions.
As to this public's treatment by the galleries, I admit that my own now venerable venture was partly inspired in its green days by a reaction against the impersonality of Cork Street. But that's improved greatly since then, and was never universal. I defy anyone to resist the quirky charm of the Pilkingtons at the Piccadilly Gallery, the helpful warmth of Maggie Thornton at the Redfern or the bumptious enthusiasm of Bernard Jacobson. "Toffee-nosed, cold and exclusive"? Pshaw!
If we do occasionally get jaded, it may be the effect of having to turn away so many artists who so desperately want to get shown: or having to take down unsold, wonderful work that hasn't found a British buyer but will, we hope, be snapped up abroad. Tirades like Glancey's don't help either artists or galleries. As it is, selling British art to the British isn't easy. Believe me. I know.
n Angela Flowers is director of Flowers East: 282 Richmond Rd, London E8; Tues-Sun 10-6pm
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