Art Market

8 Artist-Run Galleries Breaking New Ground in London

Laura Purseglove
Oct 6, 2016 8:26PM

Left to right: Yinka Shonibare of Guest Projects; Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski of French Riviera; Naomi Siderfin of Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall.

In an art world where blue-chip galleries expand, and gallerists are as likely to have an MBA as an MFA, artist-run spaces are proving to be optimal platforms for breaking new ground. With intimate knowledge of what artists need most—be it affordable materials, support from peers, or time to develop work away from commercial pressures—these organizations offer more than just wall space. In this ongoing series on artist-run spaces, we talk to the individuals behind some of London’s finest programs to find out what happens when artists call the shots.

Guest Projects

Yinka Shonibare
Sunbury House, 1 Andrews Road, London E8 4QL

Photo © Royal Academy of Arts, London, courtesy of Guest Projects.


Located on the ground floor of esteemed British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare’s warehouse studio alongside Regent’s Canal, Guest Projects offers artists of any discipline the freedom of a free project space for a one-month residency. Run by Shonibare’s studio, in collaboration with Imogen Wright, the space’s coordinator, it’s situated by the hip Broadway Market in Hackney. Conceived by Shonibare in 2009, Guest Projects provides young artists with the opportunity to create and showcase their work, without the financial pressures that often come with producing and exhibiting new work. Time and space are both essential to creative production, yet are often hard to come by. Shonibare’s experiences as a young artist saw him learn this firsthand and inspired him to set up the program.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired the opening of this project space?

Imogen Wright: Yinka opened the space as he felt that in his early years as a practicing artist there were far more available and affordable spaces in London for a young artist to exhibit. Today, with the increasingly high prices for property and renting in London, it has become very hard and in some cases impossible for young artists to exhibit their artwork.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about the program?

IW: Between March and May each year, Guest Projects advertises open submissions for the following year, for artists of any discipline to submit a proposal to use the space for one month. We only accept group shows/projects—no solo shows.

After the deadline, Yinka, together with a panel of artists, scores each submitted application. The top scoring projects across the board are then chosen and offered a one month residency for the following year. We receive a huge range of applications each year, ranging from performance artists, dance groups, music groups, theater groups, visual arts, curatorial projects, and charities.

In the Guest Projects space we also run a bi-monthly supper club, inspired by renowned artists or artist movements, called The Artist Dining Room.

LP: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

IW: Yinka believes that the success of a project space is in offering the artists a platform to fail—to experiment. The project space detaches itself from the pressures associated with the model of a commercial galley: sales.

Auto Italia South East

Edward Gillman, Marianne Forrest, Kate Cooper, Marleen Boschen
44 Bonner Road, London E2 9JS 

Photo courtesy of Auto Italia South East.

Auto Italia’s politically engaged program is mirrored in its working methods. Active in commissioning and producing artworks, as well as exhibiting them, this artist-led project and artistic studio was begun by a group of four friends. Like many recent graduates, the artists found themselves looking for opportunities to show and create new work. They opened their first space in 2007, in a former Alfa Romeo car garage in South East London. Auto Italia strives to offer an alternative model to the commercial gallery, instead championing collective working practices. This commitment is mirrored in its programming, which sees the founders connect with a host of collaborators.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Auto Italia: At the core of Auto Italia is a group of artists working together commissioning new work in collaboration with a growing network of artists. We take on many guises in the ways we use and present Auto Italia, as we explore the project as an organization, an artist, a community, and a space. We’ve always been interested in what it means to open up space, particularly in a city such as London where it is so scarce.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program and the artists you work with?

AI: Our work often centers on themes of labor, alternative models of production and distribution, and collective working. Our projects usually develop out of each other over long periods of time, through ongoing conversations with artists who we really admire. At the moment, we’re preparing to launch a collaboration with Metahaven and Mumbai Art Room. Our relationship with Metahaven has been developing since 2013, when we featured their collaboration with DSG, Void Mystique DNA as part of the Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working program. We’ve kept a dialogue going since and it feels like a particularly exciting moment to be sharing their work in London.

LP: What’s next for Auto Italia?

AI: We’ve recently opened our first permanent project space after working precariously through donated buildings over the years, and are thinking a lot about how we can push this space as a resource that is generous and useful for younger artists.

Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall

Naomi Siderfin, David Crawforth 22 Newport Street, London, Se11 6Ay

Naomi Siderfin installing “Harnessing the Wind”, Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall, October 2015.

Housed in a former ragged school—Victorian institutions that were set up to educate and feed poor children—Beaconsfield maintains a community focus, offering school programs alongside its exhibitions, commissions, and residencies. Like other spaces featured here, the idea of the gallery as test site is a governing principle, with the roles of artist, curator, and audience under examination, as well as the politics of production and ownership. Beaconsfield grew out of Nosepaint, the itinerant arts initiative begun in 1991 by Naomi Siderfin and David Crawforth, for which they would invite artists to create time-sensitive performances and installations over the course of one evening. In 1995, the pair were awarded charitable status for Beaconsfield, and opened at the space where they’ve remained for more than 20 years. A commitment to this locality remains a defining feature of the gallery.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Naomi Siderfin: Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall was a logical progression from the peripatetic arts organization Nosepaint, a groundbreaking interdisciplinary art event held on a monthly basis between 1991 and 1994. In 1994, we combined our experience with the expertise of Angus Neill—now the Director of Felder Fine Art—to develop a new creative business plan. Neill injected the capital necessary to establish a permanent venue with the aim of providing a streamlined resource for the development and presentation of contemporary art and a desire to “fill a niche between the institution, the commercial, and the ‘alternative.’”

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

NS: BGV continues to be directed and curated by David Crawforth and myself, who also make work under the moniker of BAW (Beaconsfield Art Works). BAW made its first collaboration with A Public Work of Art in 1995, to announce the new gallery’s imminent opening. Running the gallery is part of my practice. My practice and that of my colleague has driven the curatorial agenda of the gallery and structured the development of the organization. Our personal practices and our collaborative practice are all closely aligned with the direction of Beaconsfield Gallery Vauxhall.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

NS: BGV’s artistic agenda was developed from that of its predecessor Nosepaint. There has always been a curatorial interest in the performative nature of exhibitions and events. The permanent venue allows for more ambitious commissions, group exhibitions, performances, publications and events. With both Nosepaint and Beaconsfield we’ve sought out new artists who were not our immediate friends and colleagues and over the years extended our network internationally. We are committed to supporting artists at all stages of their careers and do so.

Karen Mirza, Brad Butler
First Floor, 316-318 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 OAG

September 2016. Karen Mirza and Brad Butler studio, courtesy of the artists.

Founded in 2004 and specializing in film and moving image,’s model is focused on making the means of production and space to exhibit available to artists. Through a membership program the space offers artists cut-price film and use of its film lab for just £120 per year, and programmed alongside this are workshops and residencies that function to support artists at every level of development. While they currently face potential eviction from their current premises, directors Karen Mirza and Brad Butler remain optimistic about the future of

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open this space?

Karen Mirza: The inspiration for the project space came from a couple of indirect and direct sets of conditions. One was a desire to work with film technology—16mm and Super 8—and to put back into circulation and distribution a set of conceptual and political philosophical ideas around a basic need for artists to own the means of production.

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

KM: There is no easy answer to the question of balancing an art practice with running an artist-run space. Working double shifts, moonlighting; traveling is a brilliant way to have focus and clarity around a solo practice. The exciting and rewarding part of being part of a community of artists, makers, and thinkers is that the conversations and exposure to a multitude of voices inspires the collective and collaborative work much more than working in isolation as an artist.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

KM: Our programme at over the years and to the present day is an ongoing, open conversation with people both near and far; it operates at a very grassroots level. The programming happens through conversations that are articulated through screenings, production, hanging out in the collective studio, taking an interest in each other’s work. Sometimes artists find us through recommendations and approach for a platform to show their work. We keep a big part of our program flexible so that we can also be responsive to artists who are passing through London and want to host an event, convene a discussion, or screen a work.

LP: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

KM: Success for me is about having real conversations that manifest in all sorts of things coming into being in the world that otherwise just wouldn’t come about in any other way.

LP: Do artists make better gallerists?

KM: If artists take more risks than gallerists, then yes. But not all artists do, and not all gallerists don’t.

Assembly Point

Sam Walker, James Edgar
49 Staffordshire Street, London SE15 5TJ

Photo by Hendrik Schneider, courtesy of Assembly Point.

Newcomer Assembly Point launched its Peckham space in 2015. Founders James Edgar and Sam Walker, who show their own collaborative work under the moniker Edgar–Walker, have developed a program where group shows are a mainstay. Their space, a former Methodist Hall with plenty of character, has room for studios and a gallery space, and generates healthy cross-pollination between the two (studio residents appear in group shows with some regularity). Walker and Edgar also sell a limited range of editioned works, prints, and publications.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Assembly Point: We’ve enjoyed the process of putting on shows since we met during our MA at Camberwell College of Arts and started collaborating as Edgar–Walker. For our final show there we constructed a pristine gallery space within the college studios, so after graduating it seemed logical that we could repeat the process elsewhere and we decided to start looking for a space. We wanted to keep it local and found the space in Peckham where we are now. We found the name Assembly Point on an old typewritten fire safety notice on our first day in the building and it stuck in our heads. We opened in June 2015 with a group show called “Back to the Things Themselves” which featured nine artists including ourselves.

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

AP: We see running the gallery as part of our practice and are always looking, talking, and thinking about our next work. We spend long periods distilling ideas, followed by short, intense periods of making, which suits us quite well. Also, having continual conversations with the artists around us means we are never really switched off from the process.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

AP: We’re trying to show a varied range of work from emerging artists and recent graduates. In our first year we’ve already worked with over 100 artists and our network is continually growing. We generally approach people whose work we admire and if we get on well with them that’s when the conversations about potential projects begin. We try and see as many exhibitions as possible, and we try to work with artists and curators who excite us.

LP: Do artists make better gallerists?

AP: Not necessarily—although they might take more risks and have stronger aesthetic or conceptual visions.

LP: What’s next for you?

AP: The current exhibition is a collaboration between Sam Smith and Andrea Zucchini. For this show we will be hosting a number of events and launching a publication that accompanies the exhibition. For future projects our aim is to encourage further collaborations as part of the projects program. The next exhibition opening in November is a group show curated by C.R.E.A.M., an initiative by Taylor Le Melle and Imran Perretta. We are also opening a cafe on site which should be launching in the autumn and will allow further space to exhibit work and host projects.

French Riviera

Samuel Levack, Jennifer Lewandowski
309 Bethnal Green Road, London, E2 6AH

Photo courtesy of French Riviera.

French Riviera opened in 2011 in a former storefront, where artist-owners Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski also keep their shared studio, on a very busy high street, which draws a mixed audience of the art world and the local community. As longtime artistic collaborators and bandmates (their band Das Hund embarks on its “Alternative Living Tour” of California this October and November), the pair keep collective practice central to their approach to running the gallery. While striving to keep their exhibition program heterogenous, Levack and Lewandowski are also keen to take risks on artists who haven’t been shown before, and make a point to only give solo shows to artists who do not have commercial gallery representation in the U.K. “This has allowed us to develop a unique identity as a destination space, where you are guaranteed to see high quality work that isn’t available anywhere else in London,” they explain. In 2017 French Riviera will launch a new, yearlong gallery program of solo exhibitions, group shows, and a range of talks, workshops, and public events with the local community.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open a gallery?

French Riviera: We were inspired by the many amazing artists around us in London who weren’t getting the exhibition opportunities we felt their work deserved. We wanted to provide a dynamic open platform for the work of our peers, that didn’t otherwise exist in London. We also wanted to extend our own networks as artists, which opening French Riviera inspired us to do.

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

FR: We see the gallery as an extension of our interest in collaboration, which is how we have always made work since art college. There is an element of switching between practice and running the gallery and sometimes combining them together. We always give free reign to the exhibiting artists in terms of what work they show and are interested in developing an ongoing dialogue with the artists about their work and ideas beyond it. We try to provide encouragement for artists to push the boundaries of what is possible. Our aim is that French Riviera exists as a place that always presents the most ambitious work that an artist has made to date.

LP: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

FR: Integrity. The audience needs to believe in the gallery program, the artists, the work, and the gallerists themselves. The gallery’s supporters—whether it’s the Arts Council, collectors, or curators (and hopefully all of these)—want to invest in a successful gallery and the artists it shows because of their collective reputation, as well as directly supporting the artists and their work. Therefore it’s vital you maintain integrity in all aspects of how you operate as a space.

The best commercial galleries have the resources, and the quality control systems, to invest in the visions of the established artists. However, support for smaller dynamic artist-run galleries is the best way to empower emerging artists to make and show ground-breaking new work to the international art world. The way to achieve innovation and diversity in art in the future, is to open up a new dialogue between the artist-run and the blue-chip galleries, about how they can work together to empower artists at different points in their careers to radically change the world.

LP: Do artists make better gallerists?

FR: Yes. Artists are ideally placed to recognize and celebrate great new art made by their peers, without first having to view it through its status within the market. Of course there are some great commercial galleries run by fantastic gallerists which will always exist to support the most successful artists. But there are also too many galleries churning out bad shows and chasing sales, which don’t have the financial or emotional resources to support artists in their early careers. In the worst cases these galleries are exploiting artists by not paying them for fabrication costs or sales. Consequently, many younger artists are now rejecting the representation model as an anachronism.

Banner Repeater

Ami Clarke
Platform 1, Hackney Downs Network Rail, Dalston Lane, E8 1LA

Photo courtesy of Banner Repeater.

Ami Clarke’s Banner Repeater makes a virtue of its unusual location. Situated on a platform at Hackney Downs train station, “within the ebb and flow of the commuting public,” as Clarke describes, it’s an ideal location for a reading room and project space with an active interest in themes of networks, markets, and mediation. Clarke sees running Banner Repeater, which she opened in 2010, as just one strand in her wider exploration of systems of exchange. The transitional nature of the space is not only inspiring for the artists involved, it also brings with it a diverse audience. “It’s rare that you have the opportunity to put artists’ publications into people’s hands and for them to then sit down on a train and read them,” Clarke says. Banner Repeater is host to The Archive of Artists’ Publishing, which benefits from a symbiotic relationship with the project space.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired you to open a gallery?

Ami Clarke: Being an artist as well as facilitating an experimental space for others, my practice and Banner Repeater’s remit are inevitably intertwined to a degree, and whilst I remain in the background for most things BR, my work alongside this also focuses on some similar ideas. I have a fascination with language and its increasingly performative qualities through online networks. It was always a working drawing, in my mind, and hence quite light on its feet—I’d never wanted to run a gallery for the sake of it, so I’ve always considered it quite an experimental project.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

AC: The program develops fairly organically often coming about through conversations with artists, writers, thinkers and others, relating to these ideas of publishing as a process—picking up on historical precedents in publishing, and artists' publishing, that test new technologies—to critique the hybrid and networked ways we work today.

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

AC: Whilst I’m a facilitator and sometime curator at BR, many of the concerns that run through the program are shared in my practice. For example one of my works, Low Animal Spirits—a High Frequency Trading algorithm that deals in live news data, and generates speculative headlines tweeted by @LowAnimalSpirit—was developed alongside the conversations that we were having during other projects at BR. I realized by about the fourth year that it was really important for me to still make work separate of BR. Organizing and facilitating a space requires a different level of focus when supporting other artists, or arranging a talk, than the feedback loops I get from the intense absorption in certain aspects of my practice. It’s really necessary to keep re-charging the battery in this way for me.

LP: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

AC: I value experimental spaces that take risks, questioning the relevance and practice of contemporary art, which has a renewed urgency at this point in time. We’re going through some extraordinary changes politically and economically right now, and there’s pity few places left for any kind of experimentation, so art is still of value to us as a way of asking these awkward, pressing questions—questions that undermine our most basic assumptions.

LP: What’s next for you?

AC: I’m particularly interested in exploring these hyper-networked relations we find ourselves in. We see social productions such as news become increasingly emotive and sensational, and when this leads to the post-factual political clampdown of Brexit and Trump, I think there’s a pressing concern with how to operate within this milieu. Differing scales and temporalities simultaneously weave through these operations, with indistinct characteristics of human and non-human engagement, and the trick is how to work within these, whilst staying connected to the critiques of feminism, critical gender studies, critical race studies, and others. This is where art can get interesting again, working across several registers and beyond.

CGP London

Founded by the Bermondsey Artists’ Group
Gallery by the Pool, 1 Park Approach, Southwark Park, London SE16 2UA

Photo by Jonathan Baldock, courtesy of CGP.

The most established of the group, non-profit gallery CGP was founded in 1984 by the Bermondsey Artists’ Group, a collective of artists including founding director Ron Honocq, who retired last year. Now under the stewardship of director Judith Carlton, CGP straddles two venues within picturesque Southwark Park—a white cube gallery space and Dilston Grove, a Grade II listed concrete church that Richard Wentworth once used as a studio. The gallery balances showcases of internationally renowned artists with a commitment to showing the work of unrepresented artists in the gallery’s Annual Open exhibition, which has been held each year since the gallery opened, offering artists across the country the chance to exhibit their work.

Laura Purseglove: What inspired the opening of the gallery?

JC: The gallery was formed by a group of artists who moved into the area in the early 1980s. They turned the derelict Southwark Park Lido Cafe building into an experimental space where ideas and new bodies of work could be tested and premiered. This is where our name originated: Cafe Gallery Projects, London, in homage to our humble beginnings in a derelict tea kiosk.

Our first exhibition was an unselected open exhibition staged in response to the difficulties felt by the group regarding participation in the renowned Whitechapel Open. The CGP Annual Open remains a key part of our program, which encourages artists of all kinds from across the country to show their work side by side regardless of status or training.

LP: How do you balance your own art practice with running the gallery?

JC: I am not an artist myself; I took over from founder and artist Ron Henocq last year. Our exhibition last year of Ron Henocq’s work since the early ’70s to now was impressive; how he managed (and in part physically rebuilt twice over) two art galleries as well as continued a prolific artistic career for 32 years still throws me! It makes me feel very lazy... Most of our gallery team are artists however, each bringing knowledge and experience from artistic backgrounds, which is an important part of our makeup, an integral synergy with our large artist membership and artist-led constitution.

LP: Can you tell us a bit about your exhibition program?

JC: Our program remains as open and inclusive as it has been the last 32 years, showing work by artists at all stages of their career from across the borough, the U.K., and internationally.

I am passionate about all genres, though I do have a particular interest in installation and performance. I want to challenge how we the audience experience and digest work and ideas, and how to support artists, at whatever age or stage in their trajectory, to test new, bold ideas, and to help to make career-defining work, which leads them onto a whole new path.

LP: In your opinion, what makes a gallery successful?

JC: Listening to and supporting artists at all stages, doing whatever possible to make their vision come to life. Risk-taking. Pushing limits of expectation of both artist and audience. Removing the barriers to culture; ensuring that everything is open to all, always. A happy, passionate, and creative gallery team.

LP: What’s next for CGP?

JC: We have planned almost three years of our new program featuring the launch of a new “spotlight” exhibition model whereby we commission an artist to make a career-defining new body of work for our Dilston Grove gallery, coupled with a survey of work to date over at The Gallery. Our first in this new series is Jonathan Baldock in summer 2017, then John Walter in 2018.

Over time we plan to work in response to our unique park setting more regularly, starting in spring 2017 with a series of outdoor commissions by the wonderful Scottish artist Alec Finlay, which will span our gallery garden, the park, and spread out into the borough itself. We will also launch a new annual flag commission with Peter Liversidge in 2017.

Laura Purseglove