Abstractly fabulous

Shops, clubs and bars are buying abstract art - and instant cultural cred
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Indy Lifestyle Online
A Day Out in town might include a meal at a restaurant, an innocent browse through a record shop or the purchase of a pair of jeans. Once these activities could be enjoyed undisturbed by the thrilling presence of contemporary art. Now, however, all that's changed. The new show to open this week at the Tom Blau Gallery, entitled "Reimagining Abstraction", presents work by artists who would feel as comfortable in an up-market restaurant, couture boutique or night club as in a gallery environment. Where figurative work has the edge on sales, abstraction attracts the interest of restaurateurs and retailers eager to invest their businesses with cultural chic. If London is on the up, the visual arts are helping to take it there. Fashion houses apparently feel that the only way to capture the frisson of the iconic is to hang garments cheek by jowl with Hoylandesque abstraction.

For most people, abstract art used to be weird stuff involving pointless geometric patterns which any fool could knock out with some black and white paint and a few strips of masking tape. All of a sudden it has captured the imagination of consumers. Now no shopping centre, flagship store or self-respecting restaurant is without its art display and agencies are springing up to provide them. Bar Central have hired Quantum Contemporary to kit them out with a readymade collection and Business Art Galleries offer advice to large companies on which young artists to promote.

Nigel Freake, John Swarbrick and Rupert Burt, stars of the "Reimagining Abstraction" show, have all "crossed over" to fashion or pop in one way or another. Paul Smith hangs Freake at his Covent Garden Store, Swarbrick has collaborated with Vivienne Westwood and Burt will be opening an exhibition in June at clothing emporium Hyper DF in High Street Kensington. He also produced a series of paintings for the video that accompanied Bjork's "Army of Me" single in 1995. Nightclubs have similarly seized on contemporary art. Turnmills has become famous for Friday's "Gallery" and regularly hangs phosphorescent work at the venue, and the Blue Note in Hoxton Square has established a permanent gallery space which will be transformed into a "multimedia hang-out." Perhaps we should look to the Bankside Tate, the other multimedia hang-out in development, to take the lead and organise an inaugural all-night rave to signal the striking crossover between contemporary art and youth culture when it opens in 1999.

'Reimagining Abstraction', 27th-31st May, Tom Blau, 21 Queen Elizabeth Street, SE1

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