Sometimes, art for art’s sake is OK
Art collector Anita Zabludowicz talks to Dan Carrier about the inspiration behind her exciting new gallery in Kentish Town
SOME people will really hate it, says art collector Anita Zabludowicz.
“Others will love it. That is what you get with contemporary art. The important thing to me is for people have an opinion on it. I am really looking forward to that.”
Zabludowicz is sitting in the lobby of her new gallery on the Prince of Wales Road, dubbed by critics as the most exciting visual arts space to open in London since the emergence of the Tate Modern. She still has the builders in – hosing down cement in the courtyard, peeling away protective tape from woodwork, carrying ladders out to vans.
There is an air of industry coupled with excitement. Kentish Town has a new home for art, and it is safe to say that with the levels of investment and backing, NW5 has seen nothing like it before.
Opening next week, the gallery is housed in the former North London Drama Centre. Built in 1867, it was originally a Methodist Chapel. Now it is home to her ever growing collection of modern art. With more than 1,000 pieces and growing, Zabludowicz’s only serious rival in contemporary art circles is Charles Saatchi.
A former art student from Newcastle, an interior designer, wife and mother, she is about to open the doors to a collection that has taken her 14 years to amass.
She fell in love with the chapel as soon as she viewed it.
“It is perfect for what I wanted to do,” she says. “I come to Camden and I think of bohemian beauty. It has an atmosphere that is almost electric.”
She expresses a fear that Camden Town, with its creative edginess, is under threat. She speaks at length about the role the area’s markets play in fostering creativity, and worries that building work to bring in new shops will see Camden lose what makes it special.
She says: “I hate sanitisation. I was in Sweden recently staying in an Ikea hotel by the Ikea building and in front of the Ikea car park. I could not help but think: here I am staying in beautiful Sweden and what has happened? It is sanitised beyond belief.”
This means her gallery will not go the same way as some of the Hoxton and Shoreditch exhibition spaces that follow a white-walled template.
Zabludowicz says: “We searched the East End but it does not have the same character as Camden. The feel of the building is vital to the gallery’s success.”
The building is grade-II listed but rather than hinder Anita’s vision, it has became part of it.
She continues: “We wanted to keep it raw. Camden Council said to us ‘You won’t be able to change a thing,’ and we said, ‘No problem’.
“This is vital to the project. The idea is the building is a canvas for the artist and curator to use.
“It is important the site allows the curator to have an artistic vision, rather than ourselves or the architect.”
Part of the concept is to bring the art she has collected to a larger audience, and use the gallery as a starting point for nurturing artists. The gallery has forged links with the Camden Arts Centre, Haverstock school, and the Castlehaven and Queens Crescent community centres. It boasts a cafe and a library, and offers free membership to people in the Prince of Wales Road area.
This links in to her reasons for collecting.
“I was interested in modernist English art, which included the members of the Camden Town school, but I was slowly seduced by contemporary art.
“I made a leap into the unknown – I wanted to collect art by young artists. It is extremely interesting – you can watch them grow and evolve.”
She has no rule for collecting, and because her pieces are not for sale, market values have little bearing on what she buys.
“I don’t play the market because I do not sell anything,” she says.
She believes it is a boom time for artists to find patrons for their work.
Zabludowicz is a patron of the Zoo Art Fair and she believes the growth in art ownership reveals a social trend.
“People have got more disposable income and they see art as a good investment.
“The public are culture hungry, and the media help make contemporary art friendly and approachable. Modern art nowadays is at a different level than ever before,” she says.
“There is a hunger for design.
“It is in people’s homes. People notice things now, they look around them and consider their environment in a way that they did not in the past.
“That is one of the reasons I needed to create this space.
“I couldn’t put my art on display in my house – there is not the room. Art needs to be shown, and it is amazing to share it with others.”
Zabludowicz hopes tapping into this public curiosity is the recipe for success for Kentish Town’s new art gallery.