Situated within striking distance of the Tate Britain and Imperial War Museum in Vauxhall, Newport Street Gallery opened to the public, free of charge, in October 2015. The £25m exhibition space is designed to showcase Damien Hirst’s fulsome personal art collection. The opening signalled a wider transformation of the area into something of an arts district: The Beaconsfield Gallery occupies a neighbouring railway arch; Cabinet will relocate to a new building bordering the edge of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens; and Gasworks’ recent refurbishment was completed nearby at Oval.
Hirst’s interest in curating dates back to the genesis of his art career, when he organised the ‘Freeze’ exhibition (1988) in South London. Newport Street Gallery will present works from Hirst’s Murderme collection, which he has been amassing since the late 1980s. It contains over 3,000 works by the likes of Francis Bacon, Banksy, Tracey Emin, Richard Hamilton, Jeff Koons, Sarah Lucas, Pablo Picasso, Richard Prince, Haim Steinbach and Gavin Turk, as well as a number of young and emerging artists and a significant collection of indigenous artists from the Pacific Northwest Coast. Also featured are natural history specimens, taxidermy, anatomical models and historical artefacts. The collection has previously been the subject of large-scale exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery, London (2006) and the Pinacoteca Agnelli, Turin (2013).
The industrial-meets-white cube space was designed by Caruso St John, architects of the recent Tate Britain overhaul, New Art Gallery Walsall, Nottingham Contemporary, and a growing number of galleries for mega art dealer Larry Gagosian. The construction, which took place over three years, involved the conversion of three listed buildings, originally purpose built in 1913 as scenery painting studios for the booming Victorian theatre industry in London’s West End. With the addition of two new buildings, the gallery now incorporates six exhibition spaces in total, spanning 37,000 square feet split over two levels, spanning half the length of the street. Soaring ceilings create a cathedral-like atmosphere, measuring 11, 14 and 15 metres in height at certain points.
The adjacent café-restaurant Pharmacy 2 opened in 2016 as a homage to the short-lived venue Hirst opened in Notting Hill in 1998. It is decked out in medical themed kitsch, including a Perspex display cabinet brimming with candy coloured pills, and seating booths embroidered with pharmaceutical logos, which also adorn the walls.
The inaugural exhibition, John Hoyland: Power Stations (Paintings 1964–1982), which ran until 10 April 2016, featured large-scale abstract paintings by British artist John Hoyland, considered one of the most important abstract painters of his generation. Hoyland’s vibrant geometric forms and potent gestural marks have previously been the subject of retrospectives at Whitechapel, the Serpentine Gallery, and Tate Modern. Earlier works bear the hallmarks of influences likes Mark Rothko and fellow colour field painter Barnett Newman.
Next up is Now, a Jeff Koons survey curated by Hirst himself, running from 18 May to 16 October 2016. Spanning 35 years of Koons’ artistic output, Now is the first major UK show to be devoted to the artist since the exhibition, Jeff Koons: Popeye Series, at the Serpentine Gallery in 2009. It will comprise of over 30 paintings, works on paper and sculptures drawn from Hirst’s collection, including iconic works from Koons’s series Inflatables, The New, Equilibrium, Luxury and Degradation, Made in Heaven, Popeye, and Hulk Elvis, amongst others.