Founder of London Art Studies Kate Gordon tells us why it’s never too late to learn more about the art you love, and why studying doesn’t have to mean messing with your schedule, words Phillipa Rust
I’ve heard that more people in the UK are likely to go to an art gallery or museum than go to a Premier League football match. With free exhibitions and solo shows opening almost every week, Londoners have few barriers to keep them from engaging with the art world. And in this city, whether it be over coffee with a friend or a dinner party at the end of the week with co-workers, the latest at the Tate is likely to come up in conversation. It can often be intimidating to speak intelligently on the subject, and even if you are interested in learning more, who really has the time to commit to a lengthy course? So in answer to this, former TV Arts Producer Kate Gordon founded London Art Studies in 2011.
From its modest beginnings in the private dining room at Koffmann’s at The Berkeley, London Art Studies’ classes have become some of the most sought-after art learning experiences in London, offering a selection of one-day courses ranging from contemporary art to photography to fashion.
I meet Kate to chat about how her classes create an opportunity where anyone, from a chef to a lawyer to an art collector, can discover more about their favourite artist. ‘In the last 20 years, people have become aware of art in a way that they haven’t been before. I think it’s partly due to the Young British Artists of the late 1990s, and partly due to the international nature of London,’ she explains.
Kate’s background in the art world is extensive. Starting her career at Sotheby’s auction house, she moved into television as producer for CNN global arts, working on a show that saw her filming in a different European city each week. She then moved back to Sotheby’s Institute of Art to head up its Public Programmes education department, and from there was offered the use of the private dining room at Koffmann’s for her first series of art talks, later being officially named London Art Studies.
‘Everyone should have the opportunity to learn about art, if they’d like to and perhaps understand the meaning behind their favourite paintings. Equally important, these days, is to understand why certain pieces of art have created such controversy – such as Tracey Emin’s bed’ she says.
LAS Lectures take place in the sophisticated setting of The Berkeley or Bulgari Hotel, and range from the leisurely lunch class that lasts around four hours to the quick one hour evening lectures. And in February, London Art Studies launched LAS In Focus, a monthly class providing discussions on the most talked-about exhibitions in the city. Kate has handpicked art specialists in their field to design and perform the classes, but being able to present the ideas with passion is key to the experience. ‘I don’t know how they do it, but they manage to teach seasoned collectors something new, just as much as beginners,’ she says. ‘You learn almost as a by-product, you enjoy hearing the lectures so you don’t quite realise how much you’re taking in.’
New classes focused on personal art collecting will be soon be introduced to the London Art Studies programme. ‘We’ve been asked by a lot of our students – a lot of people are buying art, but they want a more informed way of going about it. Even if quite frankly you’re a fairly well-known collector, there are so many developments in collecting and in building a collection’.
Kate has plans to develop London Art Studies further, and is currently developing what she calls ‘The Great Art Debate’ series. ‘Two of our lecturers are going to go head to head in an evening class series. Then the audience will take a vote at the end about which art they think is superior. Nobody has ever done anything like this, as far as we know,’ she tells me excitedly.
And at the end of the day, Kate herself enjoys being a student as well. ‘A friend asked me, “Do you still go to every class?”, and I said “of course, it’s the highlight of my job!”’. ‘When we live in this fast paced environment, it’s really nice to take some time out and do something that’s enriching,’ she says. So few of us have the time to return to study the subject we truly love, but for many, this could be the next best thing.
Who’s the better artist, Damien Hirst or Ai Weiwei? On the 16 September, art experts Ben Street and Lizzie Perrotte will put their debating skills to the test for London Art Studies event The Great Debate in an attempt to answer this very question. Ben and Lizzie will take sides, each arguing their chosen artists’ case, presenting works and exploring past critical and historical discussions. Next in the intellectual ring will be Gerhard Richter vs. Jess Koons on 4 November, followed by Jackson Pollock vs. Andy Warhol on 1 December.
For a full list of upcoming lectures and events visit londonartstudies.com