Tuesday, January 14, 2014

All that is solid melts into air: Christie's New Bond Street gallery sold

Party time at the now vacated Mayor Gallery in Cork Street
Just before Christmas, the venerable Mayor Gallery, one of London's oldest modern art galleries, threw a shindig to mourn its imminent departure from the Cork Street premises it has occupied since the 1930s (left).

New York party animal, bon viveur and art market commentator Anthony Haden-Guest was among those holding court, reciting his "folk-noir" verse about the global art world to a rag-tag crowd of revellers bent on necking as much booze as possible. "All that is solid melts into air," shouted the beleaguered poet, before adding: "That's a phrase from Karl Marx, by the way." Bohemia ain't what it used to be.

The most high-profile victim of ever-encroaching property developers, the Mayor Gallery has now moved to a first floor space a few doors up the street. Along with The Redfern Gallery and Browse and Darby, the Mayor helped give Cork Street an ambience that became the envy of the international art world. More galleries will probably follow, doubtless making way for the up-market rag trade that in recent years has colonised most of New Bond Street just around the corner. Ironically the rag trade — and women of negotiable virtue — were the earliest occupants of Cork Street, so there is a certain glum symmetry to these developments.

The most recent evidence of the accelerating demographic changes affecting this part of town was the announcement of the sale earlier this month of the building that is let on a long lease to Christie's at 103 New Bond Street. The sale to Far Eastern investors — for "just over £30 million"— comes just a couple of years after the Grade II listed premises were made over to house Christie's primary-market  dealing business. 

Christie's and Bonhams cheek by jowl
in New Bond Street
Located next door but one to Bonhams' recently refurbished premises (right), the 9,500 sq ft gallery is the former home of the Haunch of Venison contemporary art gallery that Christie's acquired in 2007. Christie's new New Bond Street primary business was launched barely a month ago with the incompetently hung 'When Britain Went Pop!' exhibition.

That show — which comprised an impressive number of seminal works of British Pop Art — was selected largely from the vast Pop inventory of Leslie Waddington, another long-standing Cork Street dweller. Only this month, Georgina Adam, The Art Newspaper's esteemed editor-at-large, opined: "I expect the tensions in the dealer versus auction-house scenario to worsen [in 2014]". The recent Waddington-Custot/Christie's love-in would suggest otherwise.

Announcing the sale of Christie's premises, the Estates Gazette reported that the New Bond Street premises "generates rental income of £600,000 pa," but that the new Crossrail, arriving in Bond Street in 2018, "is expected to spark significant rent hikes from reviews in 2015 and 2020." 

That will surely mean even tougher times ahead for those remaining art galleries struggling to survive in this part of town. Perhaps the real tension in 2014 — or at any rate in Bond Street and environs — will be between the art trade and the high end luxury brands that now dominate the area.

All this provides more evidence of why the art trade is now moving steadily from bricks to clicks.