Galleries - February 2016

the bloomsbury set . . . One of the pleasures of writing this occasional series on London's artistic districts over the last 15 years or more has been the opportunity to be able to return to a neighbourhood, walk round it and see whether, or how, it has changed and developed. Bloomsbury, for example, dominated by the British Museum and University of London, had long remained something of an institutionally-dominated 'sleepy hollow' in this respect with plenty of bookshops and print dealers, but, aside from the October Gallery 's burgeoning programme of non-European and alternative art exhibitions in an old school building just off Queen Square (from 1979), and Austin/Desmond 's arrival in Pied Bull Yard in the late 80s, with their beautifully researched and pioneering exhibitions of 20th C. British art, it was never exactly a funky, 'must visit' area, artistically speaking. Things are beginning to change, not dramatically perhaps, but quite unmistakably. Negotiate your way out of the chaos that is still Tottenham Court Road station's Crossrail redevelopment and along that formerly most anonymous of traffic chutes, New Oxford Street, and it is immediately apparent that some largely welcome change is well under way – cafés, bars, shops and now, the very first I can ever remember there, a contemporary gallery, Joseph Fine Art . Situated on a large triangular island just above Shaftesbury Avenue, with picture windows facing back and front, this former restaurant site – once an American-style diner run by singer Cat Steven's parents no less – it makes a bold and colourful show with its ceiling to floor, wall to wall display on two floors, of top quality prints by a comparatively limited range of international artists – Warhol, Lichtenstein, Haring, Damien Hirst, Banksy and Indiana above all. It is an altogether intriguing new venture; the director, Joseph having begun in New York’s financial world in the 70s and 80s before marrying and coming to the UK where, following an enthusiasm he had first developed for artists who “blurred the lines between high art and low art, fine art and mass art”, he established a contemporary gallery space in the affluent Surrey town of Weybridge in 2008. He made it work there, and now here he is in central London – 10 to15 minutes walk from Mayfair – and with a huge stock permanently on site and instantly viewable (that can't always be said in an internet age) at prices that are somewhat more than attractive. Cross the street and dive into the maze of intimate streets and small courts that front on to the British Museum and the story, interestingly, continues. Young, avant garde dealer Paul Stolper, specialising in yBAs and contemporary British, has moved in recent years into a space in Museum Street right next door to the area's other 'institution' Abbott & Holder . The contrast in artistic intentions could not be greater if you tried, Abbott & Holder's stock in trade, a houseful of paintings, drawings, watercolours and prints on three floors by often obscure and largely delightful (and comparatively inexpensive) British 19th and 20th C. artists, being supplemented on a regular basis by well researched small shows of forgotten or neglected British artists – a mecca for private collectors. February's show is an excellent example – a whole cache of drawings made by an art school trained young Naval officer, Philip Dark, recording daily life in a German prisoner of war camp after his capture, along with some 200 others, following the famous St Nazaire raid of March 1942. Intensely atmospheric, the paintings and drawings capture the boredom and routine of camp life in a way that is surprisingly rare in the archives. Meanwhile, less than a 100 yards from here don't miss Austin/Desmond in Pied Bull Yard – no special exhibition this month but it's always worth going in for the excellent selection of Modern British paintings they have on the wall and in stock. Then, back round the corner, to Enitharmon Editions in Bury 10 GALLERIES FEBRUARY 2016 rt Bloomsbury and Fitzrovia