Showroom and Tell


Left: Alex Sainsbury, Elizabeth Brooks, and Martine d’Anglejan-Chatillon bidding at The Showroom Thirtieth Anniversary Dinner. Right: Christie’s Francis Outred. (All photos: Dan Weill)

“THIS SIDE OF THE ROOM is still very, very quiet!” said Christie’s Francis Outred, brandishing his hammer in our direction. “Obviously the cheap seats.” Cue peals of laughter, but the stakes were low by then anyhow; all the big lots had already come and gone. Outside it was cold, wintery, early March, but inside the Showroom, where we’d all gathered for this fund-raising dinner and auction, it was warmth all around.

Apparently the secret ingredient to a robust fund-raiser lies not just in the right combination of benevolent (and well-heeled!) guests, but also in picking the right emerging artist, who, nearly a decade (and much success) later, will happily pop over to London from New Delhi to whip up a marvelous seven-course meal for sixty special invitees. It was a good thing that said artist, Subodh Gupta, has a storeroom full of just the right kind of silver tableware, the raw material, of course, for his art. And of course the tableware itself was also available for purchase, with all proceeds going to support the Showroom and its outreach program. (You could have it at twice the price if you didn’t want to take it home dirty.)

Left: ICA director Gregor Muir and Louisa Buck. Right: Emily Pethick, director of The Showroom.

The Showroom is a compact public space in west London dedicated to giving exhibitions to artists who haven’t yet had significant showings in the city. The institution—currently under the stewardship of Emily Pethick, who has referred to it as an “urban think tank”—prides itself on its unique commissions (the Otolith Group, Emily Wardill, and Petra Bauer are some recent examples) and its outreach in the local community.

This year marks the Showroom’s thirtieth anniversary, which surely merits a big party and, appropriately, a rare fund-raiser. To ease the pressure on chef Gupta, a group of volunteers—a veritable who’s who of the London art world—turned up to help prep in the kitchen over the weekend for Monday’s dinner: Thomas Dane’s Martine d’Anglejan-Chatillon, ICA director Gregor Muir, Serpentine curator Kathryn Rattee—not to mention patrons of the arts such as Maria Sukkar and Emily Tsingou. We were coming close to having too many cooks in the kitchen.

Thankfully, everyone was keen to roll up their sleeves and pitch in for the cause. Gupta was like a very calm conductor gently nudging his musicians in this exercise in home cooking on a grand scale. Of course the recipes are his mother’s. “Home cooking,” he explained, “is far lighter in Indian cuisine. The Indian food you get in restaurants is too rich and heavy.” Chef Gupta was not even fazed when the fish was still frozen and not yet scaled and deboned. Muir provided a bit of levity when he declined a Showroom apron and donned his recently acquired House of Lords one—perhaps a hint of things to come, someone suggested.

Left: Neil Wenman, dealer Iwan Wirth, and Jane Carr. Right: Artist Subodh Gupta.

On the evening itself, extra help came in the form of Margot Henderson, chef and owner of Rochelle Canteen. She arrived just as dinner was about to commence to provide expert assistance and, I suspect, some good-natured calm. The highlights of the meal included steamed banana leaf–wrapped sea bass and lamb curry. And like the various chefs, the guests were a mixture of gallery and museum folk and other art patrons. I clocked several key London dealers, representatives from the evening’s hosts, Hauser & Wirth, as well as Sadie Coles, Angela Choon of David Zwirner, Jane Hamlyn of Frith Street, members from local neighbors Lisson Gallery, and Alex Sainsbury of Raven Row.

“This artwork can also get you drunk,” Outred said, pointing at the six bottles of wine that made up Anya Gallaccio’s Motherlode Zinfandel. And with that, he proceeded to get down to the auction. The target was £50,000, and the highlight was not merely artworks but also a triple bill of more “experiential” fare: a tour of Jim Lambie’s studio with the curator of the Glasgow International, Sarah McCrory, which includes a visit to Lambie’s poetry club; a trip to Delhi and lunch with Gupta in his studio; and a dinner cooked by the Otolith Group accompanied by the director of the Showroom. All stuff very much in the mode of an institution that prizes the verities and vicissitudes of a life in art.

Yes, the evening was a London love-in, with some good food and fizz thrown in. And everyone stumbled out into the snow-flecked London night, slightly tipsy and very pleased to have had a hand in the action. What better spirit could a think tank hope to cultivate?

Sherman Sam

Left: The Showroom Thirtieth Anniversary dinner. Right: Valeria Napoleone of Studio Voltaire, Fatima Maleki, and Manuela Wirth.