The Revival of Cork Street: An International Art Hub

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This autumn, Cork Street marks its revival as a global destination for contemporary art and brings an eclectic crowd to neighbouring Bond Street's luxury boutiques, auction houses and world-class hotels. By Lucie Muir

Cork Street's importance as the epicentre of London's art world is steeped in history. Since the first gallery opened in 1925, those on the street have launched the careers of iconic artists including Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore, while Francis Bacon’s work was first unveiled to the public in a group exhibition held at the Mayor Gallery in 1933. The Nineties and Noughties saw Cork Street upstaged by a clutch of maverick dealers and gallerists, exhibiting work in disused warehouses and factories in the East End. Now though, thanks in part to The Pollen Estate's pioneering Cork Street Galleries initiative and its acquisition of 23,000sqft of additional gallery space in 2018, this celebrated thoroughfare that sits between New Bond Street, Old Burlington Street and the Royal Academy of Arts, is abuzz once more.

This month sees a flurry of new gallery openings with Waddington Custot, originally established on Cork Street in 1958, leading the charge. Housed at no.11, it opens with Lake, a show by the acclaimed British artist Ian Davenport. Running 6 October - 11 November, it features Davenport's largest ever wall-to-floor installation – an evolution of his “puddle” paintings, breaking out of the picture's 2D plane and embracing the randomness of paint pooling and seeping across the floor.

Jacob Twyford, senior director, Waddington Custot, has been working on Cork Street since the Eighties and notes: ‘Back then, there was no doubt that the street was a centre of excellence globally for collectors and curators. But now, after 10 years of redevelopment, the street is full again and the sense that Cork Street is entering a new phase is palpable.’

Twyford adds: ‘Alongside the global luxury brand shops on Bond Street and the internationally renowned tailors on Savile Row, we are playing our part in making Mayfair one of the most exciting destinations for art in the world.’

Alison Jacques also has a new 6,000sqft location at no.22. The art dealer first opened in London on Clifford Street in 2004 before moving to Berners Street in 2007. The Cork Street space represents a significant new chapter as the gallery looks forward to building on its reputation for discovering under-acknowledged artists and providing a platform for artists who are making history.

The gallery's opening show, Infinite Potential, 6 October - 18 November, features artworks by the legendary 88-year-old American-born artist, Sheila Hicks. Highlights include new lianas; vine-like sculptures that tumble down walls like psychedelic waterfalls, and new diaristic minimal works that have been a constant throughout her practice.

Says Jacques: ‘Mayfair is very different from Fitzrovia where the gallery was for 16 years until now. To be in the context of international galleries such as Zwirner and Hauser & Wirth and many more is a privilege; it's a crucial London art hub and it's great to be part of it. The context of Mayfair and all that it presents to our clients coming into town for a few days is perfect. My only worry is racking up a very large bill at Cecconi's and ensuring that I pay my rent on time!’

Speaking of fashionable haunts, why not kickstart your art trail on New Bond Street with an espresso at Ralph's Coffee at Ralph Lauren? Next, head to Claridge's ArtSpace to see Like Paradise, a vibrant new group show curated by Ekow Eshun. Elsewhere, there are plenty of record-breaking auctions to be enjoyed at Sotheby's London and Bonhams. At Gucci's gleaming New Bond Street megastore, you'll discover works by prominent Italian artists on display, while Gucci Cosmos, a travelling archival exhibition designed by British artist Es Devlin, has just opened across town at 180 Studios, The Strand, and runs until 31 December.

Back on Cork Street, Tiwani Contemporary opens a new 800sqft space at no. 24. The gallery is renowned for representing visual artists from Africa and its diaspora since it was founded by Maria Varnava in 2011. Its opening exhibition, Beloved, Take What You Need, by British-Nigerian artist Joy Labinjo, 12 October - 11 November, focuses on everyday Black life, exploring themes of love, relationships and family dynamics.

Finally, after 27 years at its current home on Old Burlington Street, Stephen Friedman Gallery has relocated to 5-6 Cork Street. The new space was once home to the Saatchi Yates gallery, which has since relocated to Bury Street, in nearby St. James's. Meanwhile, for its inaugural show, 6 October -11 November, Friedman's contemporary new space will showcase the work of British-Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare CBE RA. The exhibition also includes a group presentation of African artists, and artists from the African diaspora, expertly curated by Shonibare.

Lucie Muir writes for the Financial Times HTSI

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