International Galleries Are Lining Up for a New Coworking Complex in London
Exterior view of Cromwell Place. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
With its Georgian frontage of bright white stucco, Cromwell Place in London’s South Kensington neighborhood looks less like a conclave for creative working than an embassy complex. However, the project’s team hopes its flexible approach—giving galleries the option to choose the types and sizes of spaces they need—can help the art community sidestep economic troubles.
For a variable annual fee depending on their needs, members choose from offices, storage, viewing areas, galleries of different sizes, and exhibition and event spaces. There’s the option to access some services with or without permanent offices onsite. Though Cromwell Place is a bespoke piece of luxury property development hoping to capitalize on an increasing trend for flexible working (as opposed to a community outfit run on a shoestring and innovating with what it has), the project is part of an ongoing trend around cooperative approaches to sharing resources. Collaborative exhibition series Condo, for instance, sees galleries in a host city share spaces with galleries from abroad—seeking innovative solutions to rising fair costs (Condo’s success has seen it expand to New York, Mexico City, São Paulo, and elsewhere). By creating a nucleus of galleries sharing infrastructure, Cromwell Place’s founders hope to create a cost-effective “pull effect” for collectors with eclectic tastes—at a time of increasingly straitened overheads.
Interior view of gallery at Cromwell Place. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
“This could be like a permanent art fair,” said Preston Benson, Cromwell Place’s managing director. “The art fairs do a great job of showing the collectors work for a discrete amount of time; what if there was something that was there year-round, which could be used in a very flexible way?”
The project’s launch—which was delayed from this month until the fall because of COVID-19—will face a chastened art market, muted international travel, and a nervous collecting community. But its backers hope its model will provide an entrepreneurial solution to the question of how galleries will rebuild.
Interior view of Clubroom at Cromwell Place. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
View of the Natural History Museum from an office at Cromwell Place. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
“This is such a cataclysmic situation, we can only really take each day as it comes,” said Benson. “We do have a fantastic group of members. Before we delayed our launch we made sure we consulted with them. Most members felt confident doing something in the autumn as opposed to the summer. Cromwell Place will be there for a long time—it doesn’t change the end result for us.” Benson feels the smaller scale of his project could be appealing to those nervous of large gatherings.
Cromwell Place was conceived by John Martin, the co-founder and former director of the Art Dubai fair, with shareholders including Hugh Garmoyle, a former managing director at JP Morgan Cazenove, and retail property adviser Scott Murdoch. Those signed up to take space so far include London- and Addis Ababa–based gallery Addis Fine Art, New York’s Alexander Gray Associates, Lehmann Maupin, and Edinburgh’s Ingleby Gallery, as well as gallerists from Cologne, Budapest, Jeddah, Dubai, San Francisco, Hong Kong, and elsewhere. Around half the membership is international—with some members looking for proximity to collectors in London, and others hoping to complement their current offerings or move from existing premises, according to membership director May Calil.
Interior view of Pavilion at Cromwell Place. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
“The community has proven to be one of the key attractions for people joining,” said Calil. “We are cross-disciplinary and [cross-]genre; we’re not an Old Master space or contemporary space, and that ecosystem is really important. Cross-pollination is already happening—it’s not competitive, it’s very collaborative.”
Matt Watkins, director of Parafin gallery in London’s West End, said groupings of gallery spaces are nothing new—from Cork Street in London, to the Löwenbraü-Areal building in Zürich, to Alserkal Avenue in Dubai. “These have always been beneficial to those involved in destination-making,” he said. “There are obvious financial and logistical advantages, and the draw of greater audiences is very attractive in a time when it feels like gallery visits are dwindling, but I would worry about losing a sense of identity,” he added. “The most important question for us is whether our artists would feel it works for them and has advantages for them in terms of exhibiting work and raising their profile.”
Exterior view of Cromwell Place. Photo by Dan Weill Photography. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
Outside London, the NewBridge Project—an artist-led community focused on providing artist space, curatorial programs, exhibitions, and commissions—has two physical spaces in Gateshead and Newcastle, in the region of North East England. It sees a cooperative approach as key.
“We find ourselves in a very lucky position when it comes to community and cooperative support,” said Niomi Fairweather, the organization’s director of programs. “Working in a close-knit region like the North East means everyone knows each other to some degree or, at the very least, has a link to someone through a friend or associate. As NewBridge is an artist-led space with limited resources, we tend to draw on a lot of favors when it comes to borrowing equipment for exhibitions.”
Interior view of Cromwell Place. Photo by Dan Weil Photography. Courtesy of Cromwell Place.
For its recent work with artist Chris Alton on the exhibition “Throughout the Fragment of Infinity We Have Come to Know,” NewBridge had to call upon institutions like BALTIC and the North East Photography Network to borrow monitors and media players. “It’s wonderful to be part of a network where there are always people and organizations happy to help,” Fairweather added. “It makes a huge difference.”
On the surface, at least, a similar sentiment applies at Cromwell Place. “It’s been set up as a one-stop shop for anyone in the art world to use the facilities in a way to make their lives easier,” Benson said. “We’re able to give art professionals anything they might need.”
Whether fueled by community or commerce or both, the project certainly hopes that its offer can help provide a combustible mix of different work. Hopefully, this will translate into footfall and income when the facility launches in the fall and members of the London collecting community start attending events in person again.