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DILAPIDATED WAREHOUSES, abandoned industrial buildings, disused retail spaces--these would seem to be staples of the international postwar avant-garde milieu. In New York in the '50s and '60s such premises hosted Happenings, Warhol's Factory, and the Castelli Warehouse. Usually, only minor renovations were carried out, and the primitive appearance of the structures jibed nicely with the rawness of the art that was made and displayed in them. On a more practical level, derelict industrial spaces also tend to be cheap, light, and spacious.

In Britain, the intersection of this nostalgia for the industrial and the pressure to find affordable space in an overheated real-estate (not to mention art) market has led to boom times in the East End of London, which has established itself as something of a mecca for edgy art and artists, akin to Chelsea in New York and SoHo before it. With the arrival of Jay Jopling this month and Victoria Miro (unofficially) next month (both of whom are leaving the same West End neighborhood for far larger digs)--not to mention the opening of Tate Modern just across the Thames in May--the movement to the East End is reaching critical mass. Other galleries are sure to follow.

Until the '60s, London's prosperous West End had always been the center of the British art world. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Royal Academy, based in Piccadilly (geographic postal code W1), and the nearby auction houses Christie's and Sotheby's were ground zero. Artists tended to live in surrounding districts like Chelsea (SW3), South Kensington (SW7), and Holland Park (W8). Francis Bacon was one of the last major exemplars of this tradition: His first studio was in South Kensington, in a house that had been built for Sir John Everett Millais (1829-96), a former president of the Royal Academy. Bacon subsequently relocated to Soho (W1).

Gilbert & George have lived and worked in the East End, on Fournier Street (E1), since 1968. Admittedly, their Georgian house hardly counts as a workshop-style space, but when they moved into the Spitalfields area it was a very down-at-the-heels location, filled with sweatshops and light industry mostly staffed by recent immigrants. The people and places on the artists' doorstep were to furnish the subject matter for many of their early photo pieces.

The East End is now home to one of, if not the largest community of artists in Europe, and the galleries--and gentrification--have followed, slowly but surely. The most important catalysts were Matt's Gallery and Interim Art (both E8), which primarily functioned as project spaces. Matt's was founded by the artist Robin Klassnik in an old warehouse in 1979; Interim Art was founded by the American artist Maureen Paley in a Victorian artisan's house in 1984. Paley has put on shows by the video artist Gillian Wearing, the multimedia cartoonist Paul Noble, and the late Helen Chadwick.

Such was the fledgling East End's success that in 1990, when the Japanese art magazine Picabia ran a feature on the London art scene, they printed a street map with a large black rectangle obliterating the West End and deemed only five galleries in London worthy of mention: three of them--Matt's, Interim, and the Whitechapel Art Gallery (E1)--in the East End. In 1992 Matt's and Interim relocated to larger premises in the vicinity, and in May they will be showing (respectively) a sound-and-video sculpture by British artist Carl von Weiler and photographs of young girls in interiors by Irish artist Hannah Starkey. Despite the gallery's growth, Klassnik says that his approach has not changed from the days of his first show, an audio sculpture by David Troostwyk. "I cleaned up the space, invited the artist to make a piece for it, made an invitation, and have stuck to that format ever since." One East London gallery guide now lists twenty-one galleries.

More recent arrivals in the area include The Approach (E2), an artist-run space located above a pub of the same name. The gallery artists include Emma Kay (text drawings), Daniel Coombs (mixed media), Enrico David (needlework), and Gary Webb (assemblages), and special projects by Gillian Wearing, Michael Landy, and Jane Simpson have also been mounted. In May, British artist Michael Raedecker will show landscapes and interiors made from fabrics sewn onto canvas. Anthony Wilkinsor Gallery (E2) is organizing a theme show of paintings in which architecture features. The large, publicly funded Chisenhale Gallery (E3) will be showing a space-shifting installation by the Dutch artist Jot Koelewign that features a false floor and ceiling and several trampolines. Flowers East (E8) is mounting a retrospective of the late German emigre landscape painter Josef Herman.

The opening of Tate Modern in the former Bankside Power Station (SE1) perhaps marks the apogee of the art world's infatuation with industrial struc- tures and has prompted many of the recent gallery openings in the eastern half of the city. Because it stands south of the river, in the extremely poor and working-class borough of Southwark, Tate Modern is not strictly in the East End; but it's the first national art museum in London to be located outside the West End.

Recent arrivals in SE1 include Delfina Studios and the Jerwood Gallery. Each is a combination of artists' studios, substantial exhibition space, and a cafe and restaurant. From March 31 to May 7, Delfina will be showing an architectural installation full of fragmented texts and images by German artist Michel Majerus, while Jerwood plans to showcase seven up-and-coming British artists. New Yorker Catherine Chalmers will fill the Percy Miller Gallery (SE1) with a delicious series of photographs of roaches.

But currently the hottest spot for new galleries in the East End is the Clerkenwell-Shoreditch area (EC1). Laura Genillard moved there from the West End in 1997 with her international stable of artists and in May will be exhibiting a series of abstract pattern paintings by British artist Gary Simmonds. The Cabinet Gallery, which made its name showing surrealist-style work in Brixton (SW9), moved into the area a year ago. In May, Cabinet is re-creating "Celebration? Real Life," an environment from the '70s by British artist Marc Chaimowicz; a show of 70 to 100 posters specially commissioned from a wide variety of international artists is also on the docket. Andrew Mummery is opening a new, bigger space, and his inaugural group show features gallery artists Louise Hopkins (manipulated furnishing fabric) and Carol Rhodes (bird's-eye-view landscapes). The Agency, situated above a restaurant, has a varied program ranging from films by Paul McCarthy and Douglas Gordon to the paintings of Ross Sinclair. The May exh ibition features LA "slacker" painter Thaddeus Strode.

The glitziest event in EC1 will be the opening of Jay Jopling's new gallery, White [Cube.sup.2], in Hoxton Square, which was formerly an area of light industry. The square is now ultra-hip, the subject of features in the glossies. It is filled with artists' studios, and the garden in the middle of the square was used by the late impresario Joshua Compston as the venue for summer arts festivals. The English National Opera has rehearsal spaces in the area, and the Lux Centre is home to the London Filmmakers Cooperative and London Electronic Arts, as well as being a cinema and gallery. Shocked visitors to Hoxton who can't quite believe their eyes could always go for a check-up at the nearby world-famous Moorfields Eye Hospital.

The architect for Jopling's new gallery, Mike Rundell, made his name with conversions and claims to "enjoy the layers of time in a building, and manipulating it so that it both retains its history and finds new life." The gallery represents the Chapman brothers, Tracey Emin, Marc Quinn, and Damien Hirst, most of whom, fittingly, started out exhibiting in disused shops and warehouses in the East End. The inaugural show (April 15-July 1) will feature new work by most of the big names associated with the gallery, including Antony Gormley and Gary Hume.

Victoria Miro Gallery is also moving east to a 12,000-square-foot Victorian factory space in the same area, backing onto a canal. It will be respectfully converted during the summer, but the inaugural show of gallery artists (May 8-June 30) including Doug Aitken, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Abigail Lane, and Chris Ofili will take place (according to a press release) "while it is still in its raw, light-industrial state." Renovations will begin immediately thereafter, and the gallery is expected to open in October.

As the flurry of activity in the East End attests, the ongoing search for (relatively) inexpensive space has only our devotion to decommissioned industrial buildings--a devotion that must rival the reverence that Ruskin and the Victorians felt for moldering Gothic cathedrals.

James Hall is the author of The World as Sculpture: The Changing Status of Sculpture from the Renaissance to the Present Day (Chatto and Windus, 1999).
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Title Annotation:London, England's East and West End
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Apr 1, 2000

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