London's new art galleries

  • Whitechapel Gallery

    This Friday at Sotheby’s New Bond Street, you can bid for work donated by artists to support the Whitechapel’s extension into the Victorian library next door. When the library closed, it was too good an opportunity to miss, especially as the Whitechapel desperately needs more space. Having raised most of the £10 million required, it will begin refurbishment next February.

    I asked the director Iwona Blazwick what difference the extension will make. ‘Since Tate Modern opened,’ she tells me, ‘our audience has gone up by 20–30 per cent. We have huge local audiences; people who never dreamed of setting foot in galleries now go at weekends – it’s a family activity. There’s also a big demand for education, a sense that art has something to offer. We work with all the schools in Tower Hamlets, but they have classes of 30 kids and, legally, we can only take 15 in our tiny education room so it’s imperative that we have space to expand.

    ‘At the moment we are dark for ten weeks a year, but we’ll be able to stay open 365 days because there’ll always be an exhibition in one of the galleries. There’ll be a gallery in the library for specially commissioned work. We’ll also invite artists to curate shows. We don’t have a collection of our own so, upstairs, we want to show other people’s – stuff owned by the critic David Sylvester, say, or by artists like Andy Warhol and Mark Dion. Private collections often have idiosyncratic juxtapositions or work in a holistic way unlike an institution’s.

    ‘In the three-storey tower we’ll show our archive. We have incredible stuff from the past 100 years including letters from Rothko and papers from 1939 when we showed Picasso’s ‘Guernica’. And on the ground floor there’ll be a bookshop and brasserie, which will be open at night; it will provide a place for the 120 galleries in the area to bring their artists and clients.’

    Louise T Blouin Foundation

    Having hoovered up art magazines such as Modern Painters and Art + Auction, this week the Canadian millionairess Louise T Blouin launches her Foundation in a former coach works in Notting Hill, where Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Daimler engines were built. Converted into a three-storey exhibition space, the handsome 1920s building is opening with light installations by American artist James Turrell who, at night, will illuminate the 80 windows with ever-changing colours.

    Blouin’s main interest is in the crossover between art and science, so alongside the exhibition there will be talks around the theme of light and visual perception by artists and leading neuroscientists. The Foundation is also planning to work with schools and people living in the Notting Hill Housing Trust blocks next door.

    There’ll be three exhibitions a year (in 2007 Marc Quinn will fill the galleries), with music, theatre and lectures in between. So far the building has cost £20 million, so what motivates Blouin to spend her money in this way?

    ‘She’s a very successful businesswoman,’ explains the Foundation’s director Jeremy Newton, ‘and rather than spending money on yachts and hotel suites, she wants to put something back that feeds her personal passions for art, travel and intercultural connections – to use what she has earned to make the world a better place. Philanthropists are much more common in the States and a similar kind of institute is planned for New York and also for Dubai and Beijing.’

    ‘I love London,’ says Blouin, who spends about a third of her time here. ‘Although my business and the Foundation take me a lot of places, including New York, London is home. It is the most diverse city in the world; its energy, history and complexity really are unique and I have hoped for a while that we might have the chance to do something major here. London was a natural first step, the headquarters of our Foundation.’

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