Gilbert & George to create gallery in London's East End
By Nadia Khomami
Spitalfields in east London has been the inspiration for some of Gilbert & George’s most famous artworks – and now the pair are planning to give back to the area by converting a local house into a non-profit gallery and foundation for contemporary arts.
The site on Heneage Street was bought last year by the artists, who have a long association with the East End, having lived and worked in Spitalfields since 1969 and breakfasted every day for years at the same cafe.
The house was previously the private residence and studio of artist Polly Hope, who died in 2013. Gilbert & George’s proposals include the demolition and rebuilding of a 1970s workshop as an exhibition space, complete refurbishment of the main building and the creation of a basement.
The planning statement is produced by Sir Solutions on behalf of The Gilbert & George Centre, a registered charity established in 2010.
The property is proposed as the main site for the centre, “a non-profit foundation for contemporary art that operates purely for the public benefit with the aim to promote the education of the public in the arts by exhibiting contemporary art in its exhibition spaces, benefiting both the local community as well as the wider community attracting visitors from other locations”.
It would host two exhibitions a year, and be open to visitors by appointment from Tuesday to Sunday with typical public opening hours from 10am to 5pm. Soft openings of new exhibitions, which would be free of charge, would run until 8pm. The number of visitors is estimated at 200 per week, and the gallery would create two full-time jobs and opportunities for freelance or part-time staff.
The planning report states: “The property is a former brewery building from approximately c1830, which has been extended with a steel/concrete frame workshop building around 1970 and is facing an external private courtyard, which can be accessed from Heneage Street.
“The proposed scheme includes the demolition and rebuild of the existing 1970s workshop building as new exhibition space, the creation of a new basement level and a complete refurbishment of the existing main building to meet current building regulations and environmental standards.”
Gilbert & George are partners Gilbert Proesch and George Passmore. They met in 1967 while studying sculpture at Saint Martin’s School of Art and were among the first modern artists to move to Spitalfields, which is home to several markets, including Old Spitalfields, Brick Lane and Cheshire Street.
The artists achieved international fame by the early 1970s, and much of their work is created in and focused on London’s East End, particularly the history, daily life, multi-faith and multi-community streets around their home. George once stated: “Nothing happens in the world that doesn’t happen in the East End.”
They have won several awards including the Turner prize and the South Bank award. They also represented the UK at the Venice Biennale of 2005, and have honorary doctorates from the London Metropolitan University, the University of East London, the Open University, Plymouth University, and an honorary title from University College Ghent.
Their proposed gallery is next to the Pride of Spitalfields pub, and according to the planning report the artists have consulted on the scheme with neighbours, including the pub’s landlady, Anne Butler. The report states: “Ms Butler is very supportive of the overall proposed scheme, discussing it as ‘excellent plans to enrich the area’.”
One neighbour, who asked not to be named, said the gallery had potential to bring esteem to the street, but that it could cause trouble with locals due to the noise and waste associated with building a basement.
Tower Hamlets council said a decision was due around 5 July. A spokeswoman said the council had not yet received any correspondence from residents regarding the application.
Gilbert & George were unavailable for comment.
The artists are not the first to submit planning applications this year. In February, Tracey Emin became embroiled in a row with heritage groups over plans to build a new home in Spitalfields. Emin submitted plans to Tower Hamlets council to convert a listed building in Bell Lane into a five-floor house connected to her studio in Tenter Ground. The plans were later rejected.
In the same month, Damien Hirst, reputed to be one of the world’s richest living artists, won a planning battle to install a 25-metre swimming pool and yoga room in the basement of his home in Regent’s Park, despite opposition from council officials.