You’ve just opened your new Kingly Street gallery – a stonking 6000sq ft of former nightclub. What was it that grabbed you about the space?
The scale is phenomenal – an uninterrupted expanse stretching across the building’s first floor. It provides unprecedented scope for different kinds of exhibition. The high ceilings and natural light were a huge draw, and the location: it sits at the intersection of two very distinctive quarters of the West End, looking out across Regent Street at one end and Kingly Street in Soho at the other.
As Studio Valbonne the place was all purples and pinks, leather and chandeliers. What can visitors expect now?
It’s been radically transformed: a pared-down, minimal interior flooded by natural light, with a concrete floor throughout. We’ve created a lobby on the ground floor and a staircase leading up to the main gallery. There’s also a cabinet-sized gallery next to the main entrance, where we hope to mount a series of smaller projects.
Ooh, yes - we hear you plan a revival of the SITUATION format, where you leased gallery space to YBA Sarah Lucas for five shows.Tell us more…
The beauty of the SITUATION exhibitions, which ran for a year above our old gallery on New Burlington Place, was their spontaneity. In contrast to the organised programme of exhibitions in the main gallery, the idea was for Sarah Lucas to stage an organically evolving sequence of displays, mixing new work with older pieces. The hope with the new SITUATION gallery at Kingly Street is to be as spontaneous as possible. It won’t be exclusive to any specific artist, and we might use it for one-off pop-up projects too. Visitors will hopefully find something new and surprising each time they come.
In the meantime, New York painter Ryan Sullivan launches the main space with his debut London show…
I’d been following Ryan’s progress for some time, looking at his work in exhibitions and visiting his studio in New York. He’s one of the most original and exciting painters of his generation, someone who is giving new energy and vitality to the medium.
We have Swiss artist Urs Fischer with an expansive installation, which will fill the gallery with a sculptural ‘storm cloud’ of suspended raindrops. Following that Helen Marten, a young artist whose language and aesthetics are original and incredibly fresh. Then Jim Lambie, a Scottish artist who is famed for his dazzling sculptural installations and psychedelic vinyl-taped floors.
You’re a skip and a hop from Regent Street – where do you head to in your lunch break?
[American BBQ joint] Pitt Cue on Newburgh Street if I want to be fast, Quo Vadis if I have time and want to impress someone!
And for a post-Private View cocktail?
Dirty Martinis at Downtown is a true favourite. We’ve had many happy parties there as well as at Quo Vadis, Hix, Scotts and Bentleys.
Where does a hot shot gallerist go for her clothes?
I like menswear and in Mayfair you’re spoilt for choice. My favourites are excellent quality jumpers from Anderson and Shepherd or Lanvin and men’s shirts from almost anyone on Savile Row.
And your favourite Regent Street spot of all?
I like Liberty. It’s a one-stop pleasure to satisfy all sorts of desires and it’s not too big. And I am huge fan of Regents Park at the top of Regent Street – it has the excellent zoo and different kinds of gardens to suit different moods. I also like to visit the graduate shows at Royal Academy Schools.
It’s been 16 years since you first opened Sadie Coles HQ. What would you say has been the biggest change in the UK art world?
There were fewer galleries in London when I first started out. And of the younger galleries at that time, there were very few doing an international programme because it was very expensive to ship people and their work over to London. So there were a lot of young, very good, non-British artists who were unrepresented. If I opened today, the competition for a good artist would be so tough and so vast. It's a lot more difficult now, I think.
Do you think the London art scene is as exciting as it was in the heyday of the YBAs?
It’s gained in size, dimension and momentum, and has enjoyed an unprecedented increase in business and activity. Plus we now have Tate Modern, one of the world’s most important museums of contemporary art.
Other than your own, which London gallery or cultural spot would you recommend to visitors?
I love going to the British Museum and looking at collections like the Islamic collection. These things inform the future, so I try to keep an eye on both the past and the future. I also take my son to the Wellcome Collection which has a very lively exhibition programme combining science and art.
How did you get into the whole scene?
I studied Art History at university then worked for the National Theatre and Royal Opera House and the Arnolfini Museum in Bristol. Then I worked at the private Anthony d'Offay Gallery for six years and, in the last of those, Anthony let me do a project space. I made maybe eight shows with younger artists. Sarah Lucas was the second one because we were friends and I thought she was a standout artist from that generation. Afterwards I left and worked for Jeff Koons in New York and Sarah kept ringing and saying, “Look, are you coming back because otherwise I'm going to have to sign with some gallery?” The other person who said that was John Currin. So from the beginning there was a transatlantic feeling to the programme.
Had you always intended to open your own gallery?
No – I didn't make the conscious decision to go from public to private and I didn't have any idea of the implications. It was quite an extreme change to work with a commercial gallery, especially one as energetic and dynamic as Anthony’s in the late 80s and early 90s.
Do you draw or paint?
There was a moment, when I was 15 and doing my art O Level, when I realised I wasn’t that good at it. I swapped to art history. And now to be a primary dealer working with artists is an enormously creative job. It’s not being an artist, but it’s as close as I could get.
What works of art have pride of place in your own home?
Corny, I know, but anything my son makes…
Sadie Coles Kingly Street, 62 Kingly Street, W1, 020 7493 8611, www.sadiecoles.com
Sadie Coles’ Regent Street Hot Spots
From the owners of the infamous Harry’s Bar in Venice, this elegant restaurant offers fabulous Italian cuisine as well as lip-smacking classic cocktails including Coles’ favourite, the Dirty Martini.
15 New Burlington Place, W1, 020 3056 1001, www.downtownmayfair.com
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill
Three floors of dining heaven under the aegis of top chef Richard Corrigan – from oyster and champagne bar to the warm and welcoming The Grill.
11-15 Swallow Street, W1, 020 7734 4756, www.bentleys.org
The classic stop-off for any style maven. Browse beauty, jewellery, homewares and fashion – and pick up a classic man’s scarf from Lanvin, a sweater from Maison Martin Margiela or a shirt from Oliver Spencer to steal a little Sadie Coles flair.
208-222 Regent Street, W1, 020 7734 1234, www.liberty.co.uk
RA Schools Show
Spot the Next Big Thing at this annual exhibition of Royal Academy graduates…
Every June, Royal Academy Schools, Burlington Gardens, W1, 020 7300 5650, www.royalacademy.org.uk