In Some Fancy London Houses, a New Model for the Art World

LONDON — Mayfair and St. James’s, the districts where most of London’s high-end art trading businesses are concentrated, have been eerily quiet. This week’s canceled Frieze London and Frieze Masters fairs have turned into “might click” rather than “must attend” events. Global gallery sales are estimated to be down an average of 36 percent.

The coronavirus pandemic is putting pressure on the international art trade to come up with new business models. And Cromwell Place, billed as a “membership organization offering a first-of-its-kind exhibition and working space for art professionals,” is one of them.

Owned by a private consortium and set to open to the public on Saturday in the South Kensington district, Cromwell Place occupies a stylishly renovated terrace of five 19th-century townhouses. So far, about 10 institutional and 40 commercial members have signed up for “pay-for-what-you-need” facilities that include offices, viewing rooms, exhibition spaces, technician hire, art storage and bar for members and their clients.

“I like the built-in industry flexibility,” said David Maupin, a co-founder of the New York-headquartered gallery Lehmann Maupin, which has taken a 730-square-foot corner of the building. “It provides a space we can do a multitude of things with,” he added.

“The rents and overheads of a gallery in London are prohibitive,” said Rakeb Sile, the founder of the Ethiopia-based gallery Addis Fine Art, which has taken an office in Cromwell Place. According to Ms. Sile, running a bricks-and-mortar gallery in Mayfair costs about 200,000 pounds, or $260,000, per year. She expects to spend about £40,000 a year in less central South Kensington.

Cromwell Place has become an “even more compelling model,” Ms. Sile said, now that the pandemic has put a stop to in-person international art fairs.

Richard Ingleby, an Edinburgh-based dealer, said that he was “fed up with virtual art fairs.” He, along with others signed up for Cromwell Place, hopes the venture will achieve its goal of becoming a kind of year-round, live art fair, but without the crush.

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