There’s something unexpected about Damien Hirst’s recently opened Newport Street Gallery. Hidden away in Vauxhall, one of South London’s more overlooked locales, it’s nestled in between a housing estate and a row of Victorian railway arches. The building itself is a converted scenery painting studio, first opened in 1913. Once a hive of industry furnishing the West End with theatre sets, it is now sanitised and whitewashed in the way of so many contemporary galleries.
In recent years, Damien Hirst’s name has become a byword for a certain type of art. He’s a fan of commercial spectacle; this is the man whose diamond encrusted skull For the Love of God was priced at a dizzying £50 million. Not exactly known for his restraint, Newport Street Gallery comes as a surprise. The space is impressive, but never garish. Split over two levels, the gallery is divided into six exhibition spaces, the vaulted ceiling stretching to eleven metres in height. Dotted with skylights and high windows, the environment is light and airy.
In the main gallery, the focus is very much on the exhibition at hand. The shop is separated off, accessible via another entrance entirely. In this modest room, you can find prints from Hirst himself, as well as from YBA contemporaries like Mat Collishaw and Angus Fairhurst. Only the eye-wateringly priced jewellery hints at the flashy artist best known to the media. A restaurant Pharmacy2 is due to open shortly, named for Hirst’s mid-‘90s Notting Hill venture where diners sat amid medicine cabinets and waiters wore surgical gowns specially designed by Prada.
Damien Hirst’s private collection Murderme contains the work of artistic titans from Jeff Koons to Francis Bacon. But for the gallery’s inaugural exhibition Power Stations: Paintings 1964-1982, he’s chosen to display work by the (somewhat obscure) British abstract painter John Hoyland. Entering the first exhibition room, you’re met with a series of large scale canvases: deep red backgrounds overlaid with blocks of interlocking colour.
There’s a debt owed to the greats of Abstract Expressionism and in particular to Barnett Newman, but these are more than pale imitations. Moving from room to room, there’s a pleasing progression. Upstairs, his works is less staid: the fifth room houses several densely textured canvases, flecked with sand tones and vomitorium pinks. The final room, though, finds Hoyland at his least inhibited; deep blue predominates and the paintings’ geometric forms grow hazier and more complex.
Although the spotlight is on Hoyland, you can’t help but think about how this relates to Hirst’s work. You’re reminded of Hirst the colourist; of the way in which the eye plays across his spot or spin paintings. It is this sensibility which unites the two Yorkshiremen, and one of the exhibition’s great strengths is the light that it casts on the gallerist himself.
This is an intriguing start for the Newport Street Gallery and, who knows, it could even herald the rise of Vauxhall as South London’s most up-and-coming neighbourhood.
|What||Damien Hirst's New Gallery: John Hoyland|
|Where||Newport Street Gallery, Newport Street, London, SE11 6AJ | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Vauxhall (underground)|
08 Oct 15 – 03 Apr 16, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM