Vyner Street is far from perfect, God knows the East End art scene can be an infuriating multi-headed beast at times, and as I’ve said before, rather then just do the usual artist thing of sneering, bitching and moaning about it down the pub, we decided to wade straight in and probe from the inside, really find out for ourselves, do it ourselves.
What is it really like running an East End gallery? Why do these gallery people treat artists so unreasonably? What is it really all about? Why do you have to ring door bells and feel so uncomfortable about it all? So last September we opened our own gallery space, right on the middle of it all, we rented a room that was full of old beds. a room with a door that opens straight on to the street, a room that had apparently been a short-term gallery several times over the last six or so years before we took it on. A small room on the corner of a street in the middle of an east end art community, a small room now reduced to a second-hand used-bed storeroom, a room smack-bang in the centre of the aforementioned Vyner Street, perfect for a DIY art space and for taking back a slice or two. The plan was to do it for six months (that is now extended to a year). Seemed Artists doing it themselves was not the welcome thing anymore on Vyner Street, so we talked the owner we agreed a rent (rather reasonable actually, don’t get the idea we’re a bunch of rich kids indulging ourselves, far from it) We got the (rather stained) beds out, brushed down the walls, luckily we found a perfectly good plinth on the dump at the end of the road and three hours later opened for our first show on September First Thursday last year. Some people muttered about the direction the street was taking, Nettie sneered from her posh red car that she’d often park outside, the locals started coming in and talking, the workers who said they never felt welcome in any of the other galleries started to come in, artists joined us
Last night marked our ninth month is the space (and our tenth First Thursday). We’ve stood on our corner and watched galleries come and go, we’ve watch seasons change, we’ve watched busy openings, we’ve been excited by some of the art in other spaces, we’ve seen quiet days, we’ve been frustrated, we’ve been ignited, we’ve infuriated, we’ve been infuriated (we’ve wondered why the people from Wilkinson never smile as the scuttle past, blinkers on, making sure they never glance at any of the other galleries they’re forced to pass each day). We’ve got a lot wrong, we’ve learnt things, we think we might have got a few things right, we’ve come to rather like the street we once sneered at, we’ve come to rather enjoy the energy, the creative hub, the interaction, and we’ve really enjoyed watching things evolve as we discover exciting new art and invited artists who previously couldn’t get a foot in the door, to come share with people in our Vyner Street space. We’ve enjoyed meeting people from the pub over the road, meeting art collectors from Europe, meeting Turkish mechanics from the taxi repair garage, meeting people from all over the world clutching their art maps, artists hidden in the studios by the canal, kids from the housing estate who are asking more and more questions, meeting the squatters who started it all in the first place, we’re enjoying it, the street is most certainly alive and it feels good to be part of it…
Yesterday an article appeared on the Guardian website. a rather shoddy piece of journalism, a cynic might think it may have been hacked together (or at least edited apart) by someone somewhere in deepest Fitzrovia. Of course Vyner Street is far from perfect, my anger at some of it is partly why we set up right in the middle of it all in the first place. Yes, there is a lot wrong with the East End art scene, of course there is, there’s a lot wrong with Vyner Street (and we certainly can’t claim to have got everything we’ve done on our corner of Vyner Street right), but to say the street and the art scene in this part of London is dead, and that Fitzrovia is now the place is, at best, laughably out of touch with the reality of it all. Sure those who are now the tired establishment, those who’ve already made their living off the back of East End art, and who have long since lost any edge they might have once had, that new and already tired establishment might have scuttled over to what they hope are the golden-paved streets of the West end now they made enough money to be able to afford the West End rents (the ridiculous Guardian notion that the West End rents are cheaper than Vyner Street really is laughable even in these times of Olympic gentrification and creeping Foxton greed). No, those who are now the establishment are covering their tracks, making their fragile excuses and trying to switch the attention to where they’ve gone chasing the money, they’re drawing up their bridges and attempting to piss on those they’ve been exploiting for last half-a-dozen years as they do so – bye bye East End dirt, bye bye exploited artists, we’ve got what we want out of you, we don’t need you anymore, now let’s put the boot in and try and destroy you as we leave… So their mate at the Guardian put the boot in (and the parrot-like faddish websites repeat it all without a hint of a question) everyone take it as gospel, and somehow something that is currently utter fiction starts to become dangerously near fact as people start to believe it all…
No, the Guardian guy, Mr Batty, really hasn’t got much of a clue about what’s really going on, has even been down the street? Clueless article but it is rather dangerous and can’t just be ignored and dismissed, especially when the self-appointed tastemakers like art website FAD repeat it word for word without question on their own website. I really thought FAD were a better publication than that? Is journalism just a cut ‘n paste exercise these web-based days? At lease FAD credited the Guardian, others seem to have just ripped it off (very badly), and presented it as their own work (who the hell is Jack anyway?)
Vyner Street and the East End may not be in perfect health but in terms of art the area is still very much alive and most definitely kicking, Vyner Street is evolving, regenerating like it always has. If you look hard enough, if you make the effort, if you really explore, then you’ll fine that art is alive and well in the East End, that spaces are evolving in Vyner Street and the surrounding area, that artists are once again doing it themselves, that plush new galleries, like the so far rather excellent Hada Contemporary, are, rather than deserting, actually catching the buzz and coming over from the West to join in. Far from scuttling from the place, those who are presenting really exciting art are heading this way (we’ll swap you Hada for Nettie Horn any day of the week mate).
We saw the opening of Press Play House down Vyner Street last night, another new high-end space standing proudly in an evolving regenerating street next to the sophistication of Hada and new back-room DIY spaces like Flying Egg, next to the newly enlarged Wayward gallery, next to us on our cultivated corner, next to Degree Art and their currently acclaimed ArtHaus show. As for Fred’s comment about collectors not coming down Vyner Street anymore, here at Cultivate were seeing plenty of collectors, sales are going up and up (not that it is about sales, we’re not running shops here are we?). We had collectors fighting over MyDog Sighs cans last week, we’ve had them getting excited about new painters like Ed Haslem this week. We’ve seen it getting busier and busier in terms of buyers, collectors, in terms of sales, in terms of footfall, people just coming in and enjoying what we have to offer, people wanting to engage, to talk, to argue in a positive way, to debate. If you really want to know then we’ve sold 63 pieces of art in the last three weeks, if Fred is right about buyers and collectors not wanting to come down the street anymore then someone better tell the people coming through our open door, or the people buying Allan Martin pieces at Gallery One last week or the people buying Test Space pieces today. There’s been a healthy buzz to the oil-stained street in the last month or so, a buzz that we’re rather enjoying. The street has been full of life today, it was packed again last night, and frankly good riddance to the tired old closed-door unfriendly elitism of boring old Fred and tedious Nettie Horn, they really did make the viewing of art seem like an unwelcoming, sometimes intimidating, always unfriendly experience that wasn’t for the likes of you and me. Maybe their numbers were dropping off at Fred and company, maybe that was because they never opened their uninviting doors, they never put up signs to tell new people where they were, never ever that welcoming or friendly when anyone did dare to ring their hidden door bells? They seemed to not actually have shows on half the time anyway – we’ve put a show on already this year, I need a break now darling, we’ll put another one on in two months or so, we won’t tell anyone though, heaven forbid, the general public might come in… Surely if you’re going to run a gallery you open the doors and engage with people? The only time anyone from the sour-faced Nettie Horn gallery ever spoke to is at Cultivate was to tell us that by having an open door and a sign outside we were “taking away the mystery of art and making it too easy for people”.
Vyner Street isn’t perfect by any means, and yes, you could argue it isn’t in the best of health at the moment, the street is far from dead though. The East End might not get everything right, the area is certainly alive though, and constantly evolving, it is where the exciting art is coming from, where it is being shown, to declare the East End and Vyner Street dead is just ridiculous, to declare it dead is lazy, out of touch. The only thing that will kill our ever evolving art scene is clueless, badly researched, out of touch articles like Batty’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian, or websites that claim to have a finger on the pulse, websites like FAD or whatever that other site is called, just repeating or rehashing it all without question instead of getting out there and really covering what’s really going on….
We had lines of people trying to get in to new openings up and down the street last night, can’t say I like every show in the street, but it certainly didn’t look dead to me last night. We’ve had people down here enjoying and indeed buying art (in the bad weather) this morning.. Mr Batty, if you’re going to write an article, at least balance it by talking to the people actually down here on the front line, you really can’t present an accurate picture by just talking to those who are busy jumping ship as they go chasing what they think is easy money in Fitzrovia, your whole piece really does stink of something or other just a little bit, was it really all just a Fitzrovia PR stunt on First Thursday morning?
Fred has left, good riddance to Nettie, we’re enjoying life down here in Vyner Street without them, and we rather like the fact artist-led shows and DIY galleries are coming back in the street and surrounding areas alongside the more friendly new galleries like Hada coming in to join in the new energy that’s being created. There’s a healthy balance emerging and evolving, something for everyone, from the real DIY spaces like Flying Egg (currently hosting the Test Space collective from Leeds for a couple of weeks), to Matt Roberts (back in the street and re-enthused about it all after leaving himself last year), Hada’s shows so far have been gloriously beautiful, the two Vyner Street galleries have something different nearly every week, Wayward is alive with skateboards, super 8 and spray paint, Wilkinson doing their well behaved things down the end (they may not smile and they may never say hello but they do have a refreshing space and there’s nothing wrong with a white cube or two alongside everything else is there?), You’ve got the big church space at The Empire, Kim O’Neil’s recent Sins show was particularly impressive up there, you’ve the rather mysterious Dialogue, good to see that space was open again last night, oh yes, there’s lots going on in Vyner Street, not always good, not everything it right, and yes, sometimes it can be spectacularly bad, all very much alive though, evolving rather nicely and always worth a look, and anyway, artists taking control and doing it themselves is where the Vyner Street art scene started wasn’t it? The Psychic Youth squats and what have you, they were there long before Fred and company weren’t they? Things are evolving, we’re enjoying it, the East End art scene is exciting us, we like it down our street…
Words: Sean Worrall © June 8th 2012 Reprinted with permission from Tales From The Street