On the dawn of Frieze: Looking East & West, an interview with Gallery Director Samir Ceric

Published in Trebuchet Magazine, Oct 2011. Copyright Nicola Anthony

October is the shining  pinnacle of the art world calendar, and you cannot have failed to notice that Frieze, that holy grail of art fairs, unveils it’s glistening art delights this week. Featuring over 170 UK and international galleries, Frieze gathers up the best of the art world and installs them in London.

But before I and try to unravel the international art whirlwind that is Frieze, I thought I would go back to the basics and take a look at the London art scene.

Now the art-savvy amongst you will be familiar with London’s plethora of exciting galleries and art hubs, but many of my readers have been asking me to elucidate the ‘secrets’ – spill the beans on how to get invited to the events and opening parties, meet the artists, see creativity in action, and I have agreed to do just that.
I have been inundated with questions – How do you get invited? Where do you go? Is it free? (yes!) …so this marks the first article in my ‘Insider’s Guide’. I’ve also invited some curators, artists and gallerists to give their perspective. I hope it starts to unravel some of the mysteries and open the door into the art world for you…

 

This month has seen a lot of east-meets-west collaborations, and last week I had two exhibitions opening – one in East London and one in West. So what is the difference between art on opposite sides of the city?

 

The first show, is called ‘RED’, at Cultivate, Vyner Street – a street characterised by its bizarre combination of car mechanic shops alongside some very top end and cutting edge galleries.  Arguably the most significant ‘gallery row’ in London, it is ideally placed to enjoy the best of ‘First Thursday‘ – the monthly art celebration in East London initiated by Time Out magazine. Dusty floors and rough white walls present us with contemporary art, meanwhile spontaneous creations pop up all around this stretch of the city in shop windows, reclaimed spaces or drawn directly onto walls. Both emerging and internationally renowned artists are shown on Vyner Street, whilst art students frequent the area for inspiration. Every first Thursday of the month, all the galleries in East London stay open late, showcasing new exhibits and inviting you in for a drink. The whole of Vyner street swarms with people, barbeques are rolled out (yes even in October), and crowds gather outside the street’s hardy Victory pub.

Conversely, galleries in West London are customarily ‘shinier’ and more traditional, with a bit more ‘glam’, but often lacking the rawness and cutting-edge nature of the East. In Notting Hill, nestled within this west art scene, but firmly grounded in an East London-esque experimental nature, is Debut Contemporary.

 

In the run up to Debut Contemporary’s own satelite Frieze exhibition this week, I asked the innovative gallery director and founder, Samir Ceric, about the changing art scene in London’s west.

 

NA: Samir, what would you say characterises the Art scene in West London?

SC: It’s hard to say as it is still rather traditional however we have seen major changes in the last 3-5 years with emergence of many contemporary art galleries and numerous pop up exhibitions especially on Westbourne Grove and Portobello Road.

From Flora Fairbairn’s Summer Salon on Portobello Road launched in 2005 (Flora worked closely with Kay Saatchi and Catriona Warren on the first ever ‘Anticipation’ show which was hosted in 2007 at David Roberts Foundation on Great Titchfield Street, off Oxford Street before Kay Saatchi moved it to Selfridges) to APART Gallery’s take over of Fresh & Wild, and the current London West Bank Gallery on Westbourne Grove… And of course, who could forget Banksy’s ‘rats exhibition’ which attracted the worldwide media, 30,000 visitors and the sell out show, just down the road from Debut Contemporary at 100 Westbourne Grove, the home to Whitewall Galleries.

NA: How does Debut Contemporary fit in or break the mold of that?

SC: Very much at the forefront of the contemporary, avant garde, art movement and art scene in the last 5 years. With a very proactive approach, regular weekly events and stepping out of the boarders of the white wall space, we aim to engage rather than wait to be engaged. Our approach is to charm people into appreciating, liking and collecting art as something everybody should consider doing, no matter what available budget they might have.

NA: In your opinion, how do East and West complement or differ?

SC: East is still very much the real hub of creativity and experimentation whereas the West might provide a little bit more objective and balanced out approach to the business side of the art equation whereby the works are not off the wall (at least not always). The West Londoners are incredibly well placed as collectors, influencers and savvy audience. East struggles with the notion of commercialism. West is well versed on this, hence they definitely compliment each other and should collaborate with each other even more.

NA: Who is it for?

SC: Art? As far as we are concerned, for everybody. Art can be a conduit for many things and is becoming more and more a lifestyle choice, rather than the status symbol. We believe in 10-20 years time, most households in the UK will own an original piece of art, be it bought in their local gallery or from an artist studio or at AAF (The Affordable Art Fair) and/or any other fair. And of course let’s not underestimate the importance and emergence of better and better art online sales platforms such as Culturelabel.co.uk, Artsation.com etc…

NA: How would you suggest people who want to get involved in the art scene in London or meet artists go about it?

SC: Get to know your locals in terms of galleries, artists… Attend gallery openings, open studios, search online, get involved with Contemporary Art Society, attend the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition as well as London art schools degree shows… Have fun, invite artists and art enthusiasts for dinner at yours, socialise and network and you’ll undoubtedly improve your standard of living by simply doing some, if not all, of the above things… And don’t forget about checking out Art London and Frieze every October, as well as London Art Fair in January and now the Other Art Fair in November (21-24 November 2011).

Samir Ceric is responsible for launching Salon Contemporary, followed by Wolf & Badger, and Debut Contemporary, alongside his partner and wife, Zoe Knight. The husband and wife duo have been named by Time Out London as ‘London’s top tastemakers’, earning indistry titles such as ‘One of the UK’s most powerful couples in Art & fashion'(The Times Magazines), and ‘Kingmakers of creative talent’ (International Life Magazine).

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Nicola Anthony is an artist and art writer living & working in London. She seeks to discover things which make her mind crackle with creative thought. Catch @Nicola_Anthony on twitter, or her artist’s website

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