Contemporary Art Market: Recession spawns specialist galleries

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The Independent Online
THREE new galleries have opened in Cork Street, the famous London thoroughfare where contemporary specialists congregate - two last month and one last September. This is not a matter of bucking the recession; they have arrived because of the recession.

A block of buildings at the north end of the street was due for redevelopment but the owners have put it off and let the galleries cheaply on short leases.

First to arrive was the Cooling Gallery, run by Leslie Hersham; it caters for young British and Russian artists.

Before the Soviet Union split up, Hersham had a deal with the USSR Union of Artists. He opened in September 1991 with a two-year lease and an option to extend.

Last month saw the arrival of two new neighbours: Corbally Stourton Contemporary Art, which deals exclusively in Australian aboriginal art, has a two-year lease but expects to stay longer; and the Alberti Gallery which took out a two-month lease which it expects to extend. The gallery specialises in Russian paintings and English figurative.

All three are a breath of fresh air for the old street, all selling art at affordable prices.

Corbally Stourton is the most expensive, with exhibits running from pounds 800 to pounds 10,000, but they are by artists blessed by international connoisseurs - and visually pleasing.

In 1971, a teacher in Pupunya, north-west Australia, provided some aboriginal old men with paint and canvas in order to transfer the timeless 'dreaming' images that they draw in the sand to a more permanent medium. Pointillist abstracts filled with symbolic meaning are the result; they have proved internationally popular and hundreds of aboriginal artists are now at work.

Prices are likely to stay low since the potential supply of such pictures is more or less unlimited.

Corbally Stourton is showing some of the best known artists. Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri's Water Dreaming is priced at pounds 10,000; a small square work by Sonda Turner Dixon Nampitjinpa comes at pounds 800.

The Alberti is run by Timothy Bruce-Dick, an architect who took architectural tours to Russia where he met a lot of artists. He has been showing them at the Savile Club, at the Bath Fair and in various rented spaces; now he has temporarily settled in Cork Street.

His summer show, combines Russian works with paintings by English artists recruited through an advertisement in Galleries magazine, and has a lot of cheap delights.

He is interested in figurative, realistic art, preferably with an architectural overtone.

Those I marked as particularly desirable included Tatyana Formina's watercolour Estonian Townscapes I, at pounds 175; Olga Suvorova's Harlequins at pounds 750; and Gordon Stewart's impressionistic French Balcony at pounds 1,675.

Cooling is also showing British and Russian but tends to large oils where Alberti concentrates on small ones.

They have a lot of recent Royal College graduates showing, including some brilliant crowd scenes by a mature student from Beijing - Wen Biao Mao. The City - a frieze of blue men with briefcases - costs pounds 1,800.

(Photograph omitted)