“It only lasted 10 days; we had to run generators off the roof, and it was incredibly cold,” says the young curator Alex Meurice, who works under the moniker Slate Projects. He’s describing the revelatory project, staged in an abandoned villa opposite the Victoria and Albert Museum, through which he uncovered the untapped potential for showing art in West London’s empty mansions. “There were lots of problems, but we had a very positive response.”
Unable to afford even the small, short-term warehouse spaces in the once-affordable East London, it was a galvanizing moment for Meurice when he realized that much larger, grander properties might be available further west, and so he began an active search. He came upon the Averard Hotel, a hulking slab of white stucco a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, by chance, through an advert on the online listings site Gumtree. Unbeknownst to the hotel’s owners, the posting was made by an errant employee who was hoping to make a quick buck on the sly. The property was in a transitional moment, awaiting its demise as luxury apartments go up in its place, and fortunately, the owners eventually saw the gains (read: hard cash) to be had by renting out the space to Meurice. “It’s not something they’d ever thought about,” he notes, “so there was quite a long process of explaining that we weren’t crazy.”
Meurice’s story resonates with the experiences of several other young gallerists navigating London’s art scene at present, who are turning property speculation to their advantage. While the prospect of renting out a sleek, glass-plated gallery in St James’s or Shoreditch is a pipe dream for most, these individuals have found what might be a way to hack the system—transient art programs run out of buildings left vacant or earmarked for redevelopment.