Galleries - March 2010

10. GALLERIES MARCH 10 In the volatile and fast-moving state of the present-day London art market, tradition and a long history are no longer quite the gold-plated assets they once were. Simply put, they can get in the way of change and adapt- ation. Thus it is no coincidence that, over the last decade or two, all of the great surviving gallery establishments that had domin- ated the scene since the 19th C. have undergone the most radical upheavals. Colnaghi’s, for exam- ple, nearly disappeared altogether in the mid-70s and went through several anonymous ownerships before new (2002) Anglo-German management revived it enough to celebrate 250 years in the bus- iness in 2010 in buoyant spirits. Meanwhile Agnew's, another giant from the Victorian period, were finally forced to sell their huge, listed, purpose-built galleries on Old Bond Street in 2008, prior to re-opening this autumn as a largely (though not entirely) Mod- ern British and Contemporary gallery in Albemarle Street. Similar interesting questions of re-inven- tion have, meanwhile, been facing another of London’s oldest estab- lishments, Frost & Reed. Founded in Bristol in 1808 – between Trafalgar and Waterloo! – before coming to London exactly a century later, they initially oper- ated in much the same market as Agnew's and Colnaghi's though, as the 20th C. went on, the focus shifted away from Old Masters towards an increasingly more con- temporary, though still traditional St James’s market, in original works, most notably of Sir Alfred Munnings. Lucrative as that con- nection has been (and still is), even that market was moving and for a period in the 80s and 90s in their two Bond Street homes, one got the sense of a gallery finding it hard to establish a clear and original artistic identity for itself. Things started to change 13 years ago with their move to a prime site, on the corner of Duke Street and Ryder Street, just across the road from Christie's and less than 50 yards or so from the original site of the gallery it had been bombed out of in 1941. Finding a new identity has, one senses, been rather more com- plicated; the acquisition, in 2006, of the contemporary Blue Gallery, set up by a former Frost & Reed employee, Giles Baker-Smith, pro- ving, in the event, short-lived, with Baker-Smith leaving again a year or two later to work on his own. The contemporary flavour has stayed however and, with the arrival in 2007 of an extremely experienced and very stylish new MD, John Molony, it has steadily begun to regain a sense of focus and continuity. A former Chief Executive at the Mall Galleries in the late 90s and with long stints at the Kaplan and Richmond Galleries before that, John knows the business inside out. To which he brings a very personal style also – there are not many London dealers I can think of who have played semi-prof- essional jazz piano since their teens and can quote you, ver- batim, whole passages of James Elroy Flecker’s poetry! In cont- emporary art terms, his strong preference is towards what he terms ‘observational drawing’ – “the artist’s response to the thing seen” rather than “the cynicism of so much of conceptualism.” To this end, he is, for example, draw- ing on his Mall Galleries’ exper- iences to give space to the New English Art Society’s Drawing School in November and is plan- ning, among others, a one person show for the painterly cityscapes of Kate Giles and further exhi- bitions of Simon Casson’s bold 'takes' on art-history – “paintings observed” as he puts it. Meanwhile the current show provides a modern re-working of their old sporting art traditions with the enormously atmospheric fish- ing paintings of Richard J Smith. At the same time John’s love of early 20th C. Modernism has also made it felt with recent sales of works by Schwitters, Balla, Mon- drian and Kisling among others, and with a show of late Impre- ssionist Marcel Dyf scheduled for this spring. With a back-up team containing a good blend of youth and experience – long-term dire- ctor Juliet Johnson and a new and enthusiastic young gallery man- ager, Louise Neville, among them, Frost & Reed can expect to be looking to the next 100 years with confidence . . . PROFILE frost & reed N icholas Usherwood R ichard J Smith ‘Waiting for Rain - Atlantic Salmon seen on the River Teviot, Kelso, Scotland’, acrylic on board, 23 x 33 inches