Artist-run galleries/spaces/centres are not-for-profit organizations run by and for artists, supporting new art practices. Although modern artists-run galleries started to appear in the 1960s, their history can be traced back to the late 19th Century artists’ exhibition societies (Société des Artistes Indépendants, Munich, Vienna and Berlin secessions, etc.), established as a reaction against academic art institutions, and further back to the creation of ‘Kunsthalle’ (temporary exhibition galleries) by local art associations (‘Kunstverein’, including artists and members of the public interested in art) in German speaking and other central and northern European cities, many of which are still active today. The European Kunsthalle forum organizes exhibitions, publications and other initiatives that investigate the concept and future potential of the ‘Kunsthalle’ model.
In common with their predecessors, artist-run galleries present contemporary art, particularly new forms of practice and new practitioners, directly to audiences. During the 1970s and 1980s, large numbers of new spaces (from Art Metropole to The Kitchen) were created to support forms and constituencies not catered for by commercial or public galleries (artists’ publications, performance, video art, installation, women’s art, etc.), a rejection and a critique of commercial and institutional structures. In more recent years, however, there is often a degree of crossover and even collaboration between artist-run initiatives and commercial and government-funded ones, as seen for instance in the recent No soul for sale festival, part of the 10 year anniversary events at Tate Modern, or the six month programme of projects Nought to Sixty at the ICA (2008).
Bringing together production and exhibition activities, most artists-run galleries originate within studio complexes (a few in front rooms and pubs), and have no paid staff but rely on volunteer work from the artists associated with them. Many don’t receive institutional funding, and don’t charge commission on sales. Although this scarcity of resources can be seen as part of their modus operandi, it often means that no exhibition catalogues or other publications are produced, and documentation is difficult to obtain. This is an important issue for the art librarian, as the lack of publications in this area represents a gap in the documentation of contemporary art. The creation of gallery ephemera files integrating cards, posters, press releases, listings, etc., when practicable, is a possible collection development strategy to address this problem. From the late 1990s, however, online web pages have become the primary source of information for these spaces and their programmes.
Along with other cities with highly developed commercial and institutional art systems (New York, Chicago, Toronto or Amsterdam), London is one of the earliest and most prolific centres for the development of artist-run galleries. Portobello and Ladbroke Grove in the 1970s, Camden in the 1980s, the East End (Hoxton, Shoreditch, Hackney, Brick Lane, Dalston) from the 1990s, Peckham and Deptford more recently, new artist studios and artists-run galleries move into areas were rent is cheap and large spaces are available, and often become the first victims of regeneration / gentrification. This cycle of urban transformation contributes to the short-lived nature of many of these spaces. The Deptford Art Map, launched in September 2009, includes details of artist-run galleries and events in the area.
Run by Robin Klassnik since 1979, Matt’s Gallery (E3), born at ACME Studios (1972-), is the longest running artist-run gallery in London, and one of the more creative project spaces. SPACE Studios (1968-), base for the AIR (Artists’ Information Registry) Gallery during the 1970s and 1980s, support the SPACE Gallery at their Mare St. (E8) site.Another historical venue with a significant programme is the Cafe Gallery (CGP) (SE16), established by the Bermondsey Artists’ Group in 1984.
Artist-run galleries played an important role in the development of the YBAs, from the early Bermondsey warehouse exhibitions of the late 1980s (Freeze, Modern medicine, Gambler, etc.) to the different manifestations of galleries like the (Lucas and Emin’s) Shop, Decima, Bank, City Racing, Curtain Road Arts, Milch Gallery, or 30 Underwood Street. A number of galleries associated with studios established during the 1990s run influential exhibition programmes, including Beaconsfield (SE11), Chisenhale (E3), Cubitt (N1) and Gasworks (SE11).
There has been a boom in recent years of artists-run galleries, and a re-appraisal of their role, with a proliferation of conceptual project spaces and a reaction against subordination to the commercial system. Some of the more interesting spaces are located in Shoreditch (E2), Hackney (E8), Peckham (SE15) and Deptford (SE8), and include: APT (SE8), Area10 (SE15), Auto Italia South East (SE15), Cell Project Space (E2), Civic Room (E8), Core Gallery (SE8), E:vent (E2), Fieldgate Gallery (E8), Five Years (E8), FormContent (E8), i-cabin (N5), JT Gallery (E9), Madame Lillie’s (N16), no.w.here (E2), The Pigeon Wing (SE15), SE8 (SE8), Space Station Sixty-Five (SE22), Studio Voltaire (SW4), studio1.1 (E2), Sunday Painter (SE15), Temporary Contemporary at the Old police station (SE14), The two jonnies’ (E2), Utrophia (SE8) and Vulpes vulpes (E5).
[Grandal Montero, G. (2010) Resources online: Artist-run galleries. ARLIS News-sheet, no. 206, July-August, pp. 3-4.]