Digging In


Left: Collector Anita Zabludowicz and artist Tracey Emin. Right: Artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster. (All photos: Lynne Gentle)

Underdressed for the weather and impractically shod, I hobbled to rough-’n’-ready Kentish Town last Monday evening for the unveiling of London’s newest art space—a rebranded nineteenth-century Methodist chapel called, somewhat succinctly, 176—now the home of Zabludowicz Art Projects. While rumor has it that several notable London-based collectors are hatching plans to open public art spaces of their own, collector and patron Anita Zabludowicz has pipped them to the post. With suitably proportioned spaces rare in the Big Smoke, the chapel must have truly been a godsend, albeit shipped from above with a few provisos.

Lacking the clean geometry of a white cube, 176 retains the imprint of its original purpose—and the whiff of a little interference from stubborn town planners. Apart from the addition of a café and a gift shop, 176 is so assiduously preserved that one expects a choir to burst into song.

Preserving the original architecture will doubtless prove an interesting (if challenging) task for exhibiting artists, but curator Elizabeth Neilson’s first exhibition, excavated from the Zabludowicz Collection and titled “An Archaelogy,” works well—even when required to serve as a temporary dining room for the evening’s culinary efforts by Le Caprice chef-director Mark Hix. “Mark is personally cooking tonight specially for Anita and friends,” whispered one guest, salivating shamelessly at the thought of tucking in gratis.

Left: Artist Eve Sussman and dealer Joel Beck. Right: Dustin Hoffman with artist Julian Schnabel.

Anita Zabludowicz and her rather silent partner in crime and matrimony, Finnish-born businessman Poju, have in recent years ascended London’s social and art-world ladders, positioning themselves as collectors and patrons powerful enough not to be trifled with. “All right, now, that’s enough,” cautioned urbane Tate director Nicholas Serota sternly, as pushy photographers moved in on his tête-à-tête with Mrs. Z.

The hip, slick, and cool predictably quaffed impressive amounts of Laurent-Perrier bubbly. Tracey Emin might have been disappointingly subdued, but the night was young and her signature cleavage spoke volumes. Meanwhile, Chelsea dealer Ivor Braka talked turkey with chef Hix. Clearly out of his satellite-navigation comfort zone, Braka marveled, “I always thought it was a bit of a wasteland ’round here . . . ” Artist Liz Neal was reluctantly game for a photo op as she negotiated the treacherously uneven floorboards in a pair of vertiginous red dominatrix-style heels that made my tortured feet howl in empathy. Youngsters Anj Smith and Rachel Kneebone drifted ethereally around the rambling space, keeping an eye on their art while the dealers kept an eye on them. Affable artist Gerry Fox brought up the rear just in time to make it through the doors before they swung firmly shut behind him, trapping the heavenly aroma of Cordon Bleu cooking. There will no doubt be more to come from 176, and if the name is about as imaginative as calling the family cat “Kitty,” at least we won’t have to wrestle with “Zabludowicz.”

Left: Le Caprice chef Mark Hix with dealer Ivor Braka. Right: Norman Rosenthal, exhibitions manager at the Royal Academy of Art, with artist Georg Baselitz.

The following evening, London’s Piccadilly was thrumming as the well heeled and silver haired turned out in droves for the opening of a breathtaking retrospective of work by Georg Baselitz at the Royal Academy of Arts. The night pulled double duty by also marking notoriously irascible Norman Rosenthal’s thirtieth anniversary as the academy’s exhibitions secretary. While Baselitz basked elegantly in deserved glory, the night truly belonged to the ebullient Rosenthal, who, having left his cantankerous alter ego at home, was in rare form.

At the fore and in the fray, Tim Noble chortled and hiccuped, Tourette's-style, throughout the speeches. “Bollocks!” he mumbled. “Genius!” he cried, expletives and superlatives alike escaping from him like bursts of air from a balloon. Hirsute huggy bear Julian Schnabel’s cricket ring tone went off several times, possibly alerting him to the arrival of pal Dustin Hoffman, who sidled in next to him discreetly. Rosenthal translated for his old friend Baselitz, then regaled the assembled with anecdotes of his three-decade reign of terror, cheerfully alluding to rumors of blood on the Royal Academy walls (his, it turns out) and disingenuously disavowing his infamous short fuse and RA antics.

Those not attending the sit-down dinner at eight were fobbed off with an invitation to an after-party beginning (coincidentally) at eight, which one could only assume meant after you have left and we sit down to dinner. It takes no small measure of grit to sit tight and make waves at the same place for thirty years, and love him or loathe him, “Stormin’ Norman” could well outlast us all.

Lynne Gentle

Left: Serpentine director Julia Peyton-Jones with dealer Glenn Scott Wright. Right: Elizabeth Neilson, curator and head of the Zabludowicz Collection.

Left: Dealer Pilar Corrias with Royal Academy curator Mario Codognato. Right: Artist Liz Neal.

Left: Dealers Magnus Edensvard and Vita Zamen with Artangel codirector James Lingwood. Right: Artist Gerry Fox.

Left: Artist Karen Russo. Right: Sydney Picasso with artist Jason Martin.

Left: Artist Anj Smith. Right: A friend with artist Andrew Logan, designer Zandra Rhodes, and Michael Davis.

Left: Artist Rachel Kneebone. Right: Artist Frances Upritchard.