This month, art lovers will flock to north London for the return of the prestigious Frieze Art Fair. But it’s in historic Mayfair, the home of Globe-Trotter’s flagship boutique, that new galleries are revitalising London’s traditional enclave of art.
For much of the late 20th century Mayfair was something of a no man’s land somewhere between the commercial buzz of Oxford Street and the shrubbery of parks Green and Hyde. It was a part of London one went through, rather than to. Its history – not that old but long forgotten – as the epicentre of gentlemanly leisure pursuits, outfitting and clubbing alike, and of the capital’s gallery world, seemed to be overshadowed by glitzier, cooler happenings elsewhere.
But recent years have seen a spectacular renaissance, as both of its old pre-war loves, style and art, have returned to their traditional stomping grounds, succeeding perhaps precisely because of Mayfair’s more subdued, behind-closed-doors discretion. Contemporary art especially has boomed. The annual Mayfair Art Weekend, where Globe-Trotter launched its small leather-goods collaboration with artist John Booth this summer, has become a meeting of some 60 galleries, with Mayfair’s PAD London now a fair for 20th-century art, design and decorative arts to rival the higher profile Frieze.
Some art dealers, of course, never went away. The Fine Art Society was established in Mayfair a little over 140 years ago, one of a number of progressive art dealers drawn to the area’s grand buildings, central location and proximity both to the Royal Academy of Arts, as well as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonham’s auction houses.
Some have been pushed out by property prices affordable only to the big fashion brands, although Cork Street has – despite on-going battles with developers – remained as synonymous with art for the last 90 years as Savile Row is with tailoring.
Its oldest, the Mayor Gallery and Redfern Gallery, are still there along with relative newbies Browse & Darby and Messum’s, dealing in respectively British and French paintings and British Impressionism. This is, after all, the street on which Vincent Van Gogh once worked.
But if some dealers have come to Mayfair only to have the address on their business cards, such is its prestige in the art world now, there has also been a steady trickle of new blood, albeit, tellingly, typically blood that had left its mark elsewhere.
This spring Austrian gallerist Thaddaeus Ropac, for example, chose Mayfair as the site of his fourth contemporary art gallery, over five floors of an 18th-century mansion, no less, and last year the Skarstedt Gallery, with two outposts in New York, opened there too.
The year before saw the international art giant Gagosian set up shop on Grosvenor Hill. And these follow the likes of big-name art ‘brands’ such as Hauser & Wirth, White Cube, Pace London and David Zwirner, all of whom have opened their sometimes intimidating doors in a new millennial wave.
Indeed, get beyond any suspicious looks from the front desk – they can spot those who come to view from those who come to buy from 100 yards, you know – and a tour of Mayfair’s galleries is an easy, efficient way of keeping tabs on the latest in contemporary art.