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WHY MAYFAIR IS THE PLACE TO BE FOR MODERN ART IN LONDON

With PAD London – a world-leading showcase of 20th century art, design and decorative arts – celebrating its 10th birthday in October 2016, The Resident chats to local experts Abby Hignell of Hignell Gallery (pictured above) and Rowena Morgan-Cox, Associate Director of The Fine Art Society, about Mayfair’s artistic roots and the future of the locla art scene

Words: Mark Kebble

To really establish how PAD London – the Mayfair-set dedication to 20th century art, design and decorative arts – has grown over the last decade, you just need to cast an eye on the global gallerists who descended on the area in early October.

Nina Yashar dominates Milan with Nilufar Gallery, frequented by fashion idols Muccia Prada and Anna Zegna; Hugues Magen in New York gives special emphasis to French post-war designers at Magen H Gallery; Gabrielle Amman has established herself in Cologne, setting the intersection between architecture, fine art and design; Béatrice Saint-Laurent challenges the boundaries between art and design at Galerie BSL in France… All were desperate to show their latest collections in W1.

‘Mayfair operates on an international level and is THE destination for collectors,’ affirms Abby Hignell.

Hignell is an intriguing person to talk to. Mayfair’s position as a market leader when it comes to art is unparalleled – you just need to walk around and cast admiring glances through the many gallery windows – but at the same time the global economic situation and post-referendum disillusionment means opening a new space must be a little risky, but that’s exactly what Hignell did last year.

‘It is a really exciting time of renaissance for sculpture and I knew I was ready to go it alone,’ she states. ‘Mayfair was a natural choice as it’s the beating heart of London’s art world. We have bucked the trend of galleries that have been taken over by fashion and turned it on its head. The first day I opened my doors I sold two bronze sculptures – a Peter Randall-Page and Bernard Meadows – weeks before the official launch and we haven’t looked back.’

Starting out at Philip’s auctioneers on Bond Street 16 years ago, Hignell was well placed to see a gap in the market. ‘It has been wonderful to witness in the 10 years of specialising in sculpture the rise and rise of interest in this genre, which is my passion,’ she enthuses.

‘Sculpture now dominates London’s blockbuster museum shows as never before and recent auction results have stood testament to a blossoming market for Modern British sculpture, gaining the best year on year returns in the Modern British sector. As a somewhat neglected area of the market, it is one of the few areas where a collector can still create a world class, museum level collection as currently the works are still available to be bought. It’s an exciting market in which only a very few galleries specialise,’ Hignell enthuses.

There is a great deal of hype surrounding Helaine Blumenfeld’s exhibition at Hignell Gallery. That’s not forgetting the fact she will be installing her largest sculpture to date, Fortuna, at over 5m high, specially commissioned for Canary Wharf

It’s why, this month, there is a great deal of hype surrounding Helaine Blumenfeld’s first London exhibition in a number of years at Hignell Gallery. That’s not forgetting the fact she will be installing her largest sculpture to date, Fortuna at over 5m high, specially commissioned for Canary Wharf.

‘Hignell Gallery is known for exhibiting established sculptors and Helaine Blumenfeld is the grande dame of contemporary marble carving,’ Hignell says, not concealing her excitement. ‘A great many artists get either comfortable or nostalgic in their visual language as they get older, whereas Helaine is still pushing her own boundaries and challenging herself. We will be exhibiting 15 new works in marble, bronze and, for the first time, terracotta.’

The Fine Art Society

Back in July’s issue of The Resident, we paid homage to the 140th anniversary of The Fine Art Society, so no retrospective on art’s connection to Mayfair can be produced without their view on the subject. When it was opened in 1876, was there already a thriving art scene in Mayfair? ‘To some extent,’ considers Rowena Morgan-Cox, Associate Director of The Fine Art Society.

‘It was poised to become a vital centre of the London art trade. Christie’s had already been established at its King Street location since 1826, work on the Grosvenor Gallery had begun at 135, and the following year the Manchester firm Agnew’s arrived at 39 Old Bond Street and Colnaghi migrated to Bond Street. Also, for a short time, at the end of the 19th century Van Gogh was working in a gallery up the road!’

Talking about its leading status today in the art world, I ask Morgan-Cox if this has been down to the ever-growing international feel to Mayfair. ‘I think the reason for its popularity is more about its rich history as a centre for art and its ideal location and beautiful buildings,’ she counters, ‘this is what has attracted international attention.

 


‘As the oldest gallery in London, we are extremely conscious of our history and in many respects stay true to our founding principles. We still deal in the work by artists such as Whistler and Sickert, who exhibited here in their lifetimes, but also show exciting contemporary artists of today including Jacky Tsai and Chris Levine.’

Their balancing act is perfectly highlighted when visiting their current exhibition, a posthumous retrospective of British Pop artist and sculptor Gerald Laing (1936-2011). Featuring over 70 works, the exhibition will trace the entire career of the artist, from the 60s Pop Art he produced in London and New York, to the bronze sculptures he created at his studio at Kinkell Castle in the Scottish Highlands, and finally his return to the Pop idiom during his later years with a body of work criticising the Iraq War and portraits of celebrity icons including Kate Moss and Amy Winehouse. It’s a stunning exhibition, perfectly summed up by Morgan-Cox: ‘It is a fun, bright and punchy show.’

The future

October is a wonderful time for art in Mayfair, with PAD London taking the lead in the area, alongside other fairs like Frieze Art across London. Both Morgan-Cox and Hignell are complimentary of what PAD London brings to the area, but once the doors close to the public for another year, there are concerns.

‘As a popular area for both fashion and art, rents are very high and several businesses have been priced out of the area as a result,’ says Morgan-Cox. ‘It would be a shame if the galleries here lost out to global fashion houses, especially as it was the art scene that partly made the area more appealing in the first place.’

It would be a shame if the galleries here lost out to global fashion houses, especially as it was the art scene that made the area more appealing in the first place

‘The DNA of Mayfair is art, fashion and jewellery,’ adds Hignell, ‘and we are a unique one-stop-shop for the best of them all. Some art dealers will have an office here simply for the address, but I want to take an active role in Mayfair. Over the summer I was delighted to be invited by Grosvenor Estates to place a sculpture by Sophie Ryder in Grosvenor Square. I am passionate about public art and have got such a kick out of the fantastic feedback we have received.’

Does Hignell feel Mayfair needs anything else? ‘To be protected,’ she states. ‘The rising rents are threatening what makes Mayfair so unique. The area, of course, is highly sought after, but there’s a balance to be struck. The role of galleries in the desirability of Mayfair cannot be underestimated.’

Helaine Blumenfeld features until 27 November at Hignell Gallery, 12-14 Shepherd Street W1J 7JF; 020 7499 4528; hignellgallery.com

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