Is it all over for Cork Street?
By ANNA VAUX
Is it all over for Cork Street? Back in the day, the annual summer party was something of a crush. The galleries opened their doors and the street was closed off at either end. Security guards patrolled to keep out the gatecrashers who would look down at the glittering scene and wanted to be where it was happening.
But there were no barriers or guards last night, let alone any gatecrashers. Anyone could walk by. I thought for a moment I must have the wrong date as I stepped out of Burlington Arcade and looked across the way to Cork Street, down which shiny cars were moving slowly but where I could see no crowd – or not much of one. A few people had gathered outside the beaux arts gallery, but then, the beaux arts gallery was serving wine, and last night was 28 degrees in central London, the warmest night in nine months, I heard when I got home.
I saw wine at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, but only a couple of glasses behind the desk, and the smiling assistant told me that it was just for the staff – to keep them going, he said, as though the evening were something of an ordeal – in spite of the gallery being virtually empty, and that in spite of the fact that it had the most beautiful exhibition in the street, of Robert Motherwell collages.
There were also some exceptionally beautiful pictures by Agnes Martin across the road, in the Mayor Gallery at 22a – in a show together with five other women artists called "The Nature of Women" – but it wasn’t as though I had to compete with any other viewers. I had those small perfect works almost to myself and could have stood as long as I liked in front of them – or would have done, except that they turned off the lights.
Waddington, across the road at number 11, was closed altogether. I could only look at the Patrick Caulfields through the window, and was distracted in any case by the cleaner who sombrely pushed a vacuum across the wide open empty space.
Perhaps everybody was round the corner at Sotheby’s, which last night had a large ticketed sale of Impressionist and modern art. Or they were too exhausted after the Basle-Venice roadshow. Or they were saving themselves for Vyner Street Thursday, when the dozens of galleries in the cobbled backstreet by Regent’s canal, at the end of Broadway Market in East London, open on the first Thursday of every month. Or they were thinking of visiting Gagosian in King’s Cross, or White Cube in Bermondsey, or Saatchi’s in Chelsea, or any one of the thirty-odd galleries that have opened up in Fitzrovia, which, like Vyner Street, might now be said to be one of the new centres of commercial art in London.
But wherever it is, it’s not Cork Street. Westminster Council has plans to develop the street, and as I stood there fanning myself in the sultry heat with a piece of card advertising Bernard Cohen’s exciting exhibition at Flowers, it was pointed out to me that five galleries north of that show will be demolished in the autumn. Another large chunk of buildings on the other side will be demolished next year. Nor does it seem there was much protest against the development. Few, I was told, turned up at the party organized to register unhappiness about the council’s plans, and the gallerist I spoke to was sanguine about having to move. He’d get a bigger space, he thought. He doesn't want to hang around where nobody else wants to be any more.
This year will also be the last Cork Street Open – an exhibition which has run for the past five years, providing an opportunity for new and established artists to complete to show their work, a kind of Cork Street version of the RA summer show. “Due to other business commitments and changes with the premises a decision has been taken to make this summer show the last”. The final exhibition will run from August 9 to 16. Catch it while you can.