Captain Cooke


Left: Claudia Schiffer with producer Rebecca Green. Right: Dealer Stuart Shave with artist Nigel Cooke. (Photos: Lynne Gentle)

Thinking myself terribly clever, I arrived early to the inauguration of Stuart Shave/Modern Art’s new West End gallery last Thursday evening, under the assumption that this would guarantee a leisurely private viewing of Nigel Cooke’s exhibition “New Accursed Art Club.” Imagine my chagrin when, by half past five in the afternoon, the joint was already jumping, and caps were flying off beer bottles faster than rattled gallery staff could ice them down. Clearly, there are a lot of clever people in London. I double-checked my watch as the crowds pushed in.

And what a crowd it was. Artists great and small, glacially groomed international collectors, dealers, curators, family members, and jovial gate-crashers—nobody, but nobody, it seems, doesn’t love Stuart Shave. And everybody, but everybody, was queuing up to buy Cooke’s work. In terms of positive vibes and support, this event was a love-in.

Having been together since the beginning—Cooke has been represented by the gallery since its inception in 1998 and had his first solo show with Modern Art in 2002—it seems fitting that Shave and Cooke should come full circle for the inauguration of this fine new space. Designed by architect David Kohn, the project was a year and a half in the making, but well worth the wait. The venue is an artist’s dream—no period architectural foils to surmount and a great location in London’s burgeoning art epicenter, Fitzrovia. Both Cooke and Shave appeared composed and ready for action, but the pungent, fresh scent of linseed oil and plaster in the air suggested that preparations for the opening went down to the proverbial wire.

Left: Dealer Andrea Rosen with writer and curator Susanna Greeves. (Photo: Lynne Gentle) Right: Frances Morris, curator of permanent collections at Tate Modern, and art critic Louisa Buck. (Photo: Gareth Harris)

And the people kept coming. The show was going up in a blaze of glory, and those with vested interests stayed prudently close. Cooke’s New York dealer, Andrea Rosen, was on hand to lend support, seldom straying more than ten feet from the show’s jaw-dropping centerpiece, the eponymous New Accursed Art Club, 2008. Rosen held forth with London counterpart Sadie Coles; if only latecomer Maureen Paley had arrived sooner, the formidable trio could have held an impromptu power summit.

Tate Modern curators Stuart Comer and Frances Morris mingled with Frieze honcho Matthew Slotover, while myriad artists stood chatting amiably in clusters. My own conversation with artist Tim Stoner was unceremoniously interrupted by the hoo-ha accompanying the arrival of Claudia Schiffer. Watching impressed people ogle celebrities while trying to look unimpressed is always a chuckle, and watching them trying to “pap” Schiffer with their camera phones, while pretending to make a phone call, was even better.

The convivial bonhomie continued on at the afterparty held at art-world watering hole St. John. Critters predictably ruled the evening’s menu: skewered baby birds and pink Lord of the Flies–like piglets reposed on trays—the latter bunned-up and passed alongside platters of whole, unpeeled vegetables. As a southerner, I’m used to an “everything but the squeal” dining ethos, but several squeamish guests, having looked their dinner in the eye, decided to pass on much of the main fare—though the fish and chips were delicious.

Left: Artist Tom Burr, Tate Modern curator Stuart Comer, and writer Alice Rawsthorn. Right: Nigel Cooke. (Photos: Lynne Gentle)

Jane and Louise Wilson (looking less twinlike with each passing year) strode in and made a beeline for the food. “Where’s the grub? I’m bloody starving,” declared Jane in her broad Geordie accent. Filling me in on their forthcoming film short for Film Four, she explained that not only does their mother babysit on demand, but she typed up their film script as well.

As the evening wound down, Shave and Cooke showed signs of blissed-out battle fatigue, lurching arm in arm from the building like an old married couple celebrating their silver anniversary. If Thursday night was an indicator of the future, the charmed pair will be dancing the samba at their golden.

Lynne Gentle

Left: Artists Louise and Jane Wilson. Right: Stuart Shave, artist Lothar Hempel, and collectors Ebrahim and Tina Melamed. (Photos: Lynne Gentle)

Left: Kenny Goss, cofounder of the Goss-Michael Foundation, with artist Mustafa Hulusi. Right: Elizabeth Neilson, curator and head of collection at the Zabludowicz Collection. (Photos: Gareth Harris)

Left: Collector David Roberts with dealer Charlie Phillips. (Photo: Lynne Gentle) Right: Parasol Unit's Ziba de Weck with artist Y. Z. Kami. (Photo: Gareth Harris)

Left: Collector Shane Akeroyd. (Photo: Lynne Gentle) Right: Dealer Ben Tomlinson and artist Thomas Altheimer. (Photo: Gareth Harris)

Left: Cubitt Gallery's Bart Van Der Heide. Right: Artists Clare Woods, Des Hughes, and Lothar Hempel. (Photos: Lynne Gentle)