Contemporary Art Market: Galleries head for south bank

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The Independent Online
THE BUTLER'S Wharf area of converted dockland in London is turning into a new, higgledy-piggledy 'left bank' of the contemporary art scene, with galleries mushrooming - and some surviving.

The area, in Southwark, is set to become an art centre by 2000 with a new Tate planned at the Bankside power station and a massive arts complex promised in the former GPO parcels office in Union Street.

Today the new galleries snuggle round Terence Conran's Design Museum and offices. But they are not slick designer spaces. There were eight of them in the area last week, mostly inhabiting spaces converted by developers in the 1980s which turned out surplus to requirements in the recession.

The oldest gallery, Purdy Hicks (Mill Street) arrived in 1987 and is housed, along with a dozen studios, in a vast unmodernised warehouse complex.

Smith Jariwala followed in 1992, taking over a modern space in the Clove Building until some business is preapared to pay a commercial rent for it.

Four more galleries arrived in 1993 and there are a couple of teetering recent arrivals. The Galerie Valerie, in Tower Bridge Piazza, is only designed to run for two months, 1 May to 30 June, to showcase a crazy set of upholstered chairs designed by Mary Little using the techniques of haute couture. She makes the body first, a tubular steel skeleton with cushioned flesh, then dresses it using the traditional tucks and pleats of tailoring or dressmaking. The chairs cost pounds 2,400 to pounds 2,900 a time.

An exhibition of dazzling photomontages at the Tom Blau Gallery (Queen Elizabeth Street) is this week's most exciting show.

Karin-Marie Wach, a psychotherapist and amateur photographer from Hamburg, has been allowed to photograph the last spice mill in Butler's Wharf before its final gum grinding operation closes this week.

Wach has created magical patterns by the repeated use of a single colour photograph. This is her first commercial show and prices run from pounds 350 to pounds 1,500.

At Purdy Hicks there are colourful abstracts based on what the artist Michael Finch saw out of his car windows while driving between Paris and Senlis on the N 17 ( pounds 250 to pounds 2,400).

At Smith Jariwala, post- feminist abstractionist Rebecca Fortnum paints 'the space between blanket, sheet or shroud, and skin' ( pounds 350 to pounds 3,500).

At Clove 2 you can catch Ian Lindsay-Edwards's dramatic seascapes - Turner's vision abstracted - in a mixed show organised by the Raw Art Gallery (Gainsford Street). Raw Art charges one third less for his paintings. That is what it is all about.