Having spent years planning, constructing and marketing a £20 million arts complex, a global pandemic that leaves many people nervous about gathering in shared spaces is hardly welcome news.
Undeterred by the fundamental alterations imposed on all aspects of life by the virus, the team behind Cromwell Place is forging ahead with an agenda conceived to offer a service like no other. Brought to life by architecture practice Buckley Gray Yeoman, the new venue blurs the lines between contemporary gallery, workspace and membership organisation by striving to provide ‘an art fair experience without the crowds’.
“We were challenged to marry the heritage of the Grade II-listed building with the demands of a contemporary art space,” explains Paul White, founding director of Buckley Gray Yeoman. “The project demonstrates a significant intervention with a new pavilion gallery alongside a series of gallery spaces within five Grade-II listed buildings which we sensitively restored.”
Nestled within five South Kensington townhouses, one of which used to belong to British painter Sir John Lavery, the new site will bring together resident firms and individuals rooted in all strands of the arts and heritage sectors.
14 gallery spaces, some of which are on the smaller side (22m²) and others that are anything but (143m²), sit alongside a range of offices, meeting rooms, viewing rooms, open desks and on-site storage facilities.
It’s easy to see how this flexible complex would have fit into the pre-Covid landscape. Tackling the new day-to-day realities has seen descriptions of the location pivot, now being labelled a “safe and discreet environment to work and view art”. Fortunately, the building’s light and airy architecture is conducive to controlling the flow of people through its various spaces via a managed entry system.
“Art appreciators are looking for a new way of interacting with art that offers diversity and unexpected opportunities for engagement, while for gallerists, Covid-19 has reinforced the appeal of flexibility,” according to Maliha Tabari, a member of Cromwell Place.
Members of the slick new arts haunt will benefit from technical, event and catering support, not to mention the sizeable bonus of two-year exemption from duty and import VAT on imported artworks. As the site is NIRU approved, members can also import artworks, objects and artefacts for non-selling exhibitions free of duty and VAT.
Any work that is shipped in may well be transported directly to the venue’s series of underground climate-controlled storage facilities – installed to maximise the flexibility exhibitors can apply to their scheduling.
“In a positive step forward for the industry, we are excited to provide a new home for Members and visitors alike to discover a diverse range of art, forge connections and – post-Covid – experience a much-needed sense of normality,” notes Preston Benson, managing director of Cromwell Place.
The multifaceted arts venue will open its doors to the public on Saturday 10th October, kickstarting its inaugural exhibition programme.