London has changed quite dramatically since I moved here from Up North, in the late eighties. Mostly this is a good thing, but there are some aspects – like the rise of hideous office blocks and multi-million pound penthouses – that completely ignore local needs and spoil the London skyline. So, even though I’m not a huge Damien Hirst fan, I like what he’s done with the Newport Street Gallery. The Brit artist and collector has spent a fortune renovating an old industrial building (a former theatre scenery, painting workshop) in a run down part of Vauxhall, added a few extras and turned it into a beautiful, free-entry exhibition space. Newport Street is just down the road from That’s Not My Age Mansions and the other side of the railway tracks from the ‘Nine Elms business and residential quarter’, ahem. So, I was keen to have a nosey around south London’s new gallery.
The opening exhibition at Newport Street Gallery is by the late British artist John Hoyland – who is a bit like our Mark Rothko – and his bold, abstract paintings look magnificent in this brilliant white space:
This is not the only gallery on Newport Street but it’s the biggest, and takes up an entire block. Beaconsfield at the other end of the street is housed in a former Victorian school (the Lambeth Ragged School) with a second space under a railway arch. It has a good vegetarian café, The Ragged Canteen where, unfortunately on my visit, staff were being run ragged by the new influx of visitors.
In 1988, not long after I’d moved to London, I went to see Freeze, the exhibition that launched Brit Art. I was still finding my way around the city and can remember cycling over to a dilapidated old warehouse to view the show. Freeze was curated by Damien Hirst, largely to showcase the art work of that year’s Goldsmith’s graduates (of which, he was one); now aged 50, Hirst has gone back to what he does best.