Gill Hedleyback

Writer and Curator

Hospital Club

Gill Hedley speaking at Site Gallery, Sheffield, in 2006

Freeze 20: 1988 Before & After

Catalogue essay to accompany exhibition of work selected from the Lodeveans Collection at the Hospital Club, 

photo of the Hospital Club

In 1968 Peter Sedgley and Bridget Riley, inspired by post-industrial spaces in New York in which artists lived and worked, colonised St Katharine’s Dock, next to Tower Bridge and founded SPACE (Space Provision Artistic Cultural Education) studios, now celebrating its 40th anniversary.

Long before 1988, restaurants and apartments had taken Docklands over. Artists were like canaries down a pit-shaft, scenting out sweet air for developers all over London.

From the early 1980s entrepreneurs were using factory spaces, abandoned during the financial slump, to stage raves. These precedents enabled second year Goldsmith’s students, led by Damien Hirst, to create the Freeze exhibition in Surrey Docks.

In 1988 the cardinal points of the London art compass were London Fields (Matt’s Gallery and Beck Rd) in the east; to the west, Portobello (Anderson O’Day and Vanessa Devereux); to the north, Fitzrovia (Karsten Schubert, opposite Saatchi & Saatchi’s advertising agency); south, Vauxhall (City Racing). Maureen Paley opened her house in Beck Rd, Hackney, as a gallery in 1984. Anthony Reynolds was the first dealer, in 1985, to head towards Hoxton before returning to Soho via Dering St. Richard Wilson’s 20:50 oil work was shown at Matt’s in 1987, changing the approach to installation art.

Up west, The Lisson Gallery and Anthony d’Offay were well-established as the Penates, gods of domestic prosperity. Hirst had worked at d’Offay’s as well as a marketing company so he knew that sending taxis to bring curators, critics and collectors out to Freeze would work. Charles Saatchi commended his “hopeful swagger” and ditched his own blue chip collection in favour of what he branded as Young British Artists.

The YBAs changed Saatchi and he changed the way London bought, staged and marketed its contemporary art. Charles and Doris Saatchi’s ex-milk depot in St John’s Wood looked like a Manhattan gallery and was intriguingly secretive about its status.

Hoxton became a fashionable gallery district through Joshua Compston’s Factual Nonsense and annual Fête Worse then Death. Later, it became known for a collector’s soi-disant country cottage and Jay Jopling’s White Cube, representing Damien Hirst amongst others.

Parties became crucial and the Serpentine’s, launching its new architect-designed pavilion, is central to the art world’s summer calendar.

Galleries – often magnificently sleek, others artist-led and punchy - are now in most parts of east London. Increasingly, many are moving back to the west end, particularly Fitzrovia and Soho, though Vyner St remains the east end’s art locus with bouncers for its private view nights.

London-based collectors are now a demographic, rather than a couple of couples; some open their own foundations. Sotheby’s and Christie’s train art advisors and consultants while the RCA and Goldsmith’s are as well-known for their graduate curators as their artists.

In the early 1980s Glasgow was the coolest place in the UK art world. The London and regional art map and market changed because of the Lottery, The Turner Prize, Freeze and also Frieze. Frieze magazine was launched in 1991 and the art fair in 2003. By the time Tate Modern opened in 2000 there was a huge and enthusiastic audience waiting.

In the Tate is Gallery Connections, 1991-6, by Angus Fairhurst in which employees of several London galleries talk to one another, in increasing incomprehension and fury. The artist dialled their phone numbers simultaneously and, holding two handsets together, remains outside the conversation. It is a mordaunt and brilliant work by a Freeze artist whose recent death shocked so many.