Thanks Izzie for such a kind welcome and I’m thrilled to be offering a voice to those interested in learning about what the London art scene has to offer. Firstly, I should introduce myself so readers know whether any of this information is, in fact, worth listening to!
My name is Richard Sehmer and I am a Canadian currently living in the bustling city of London. I grew up in Vancouver, and then went to do an undergraduate degree in studio art and art history at York University in Toronto. Upon completion, I moved to London where I earned a master’s degree in art business from Sotheby’s and met classmates, friends, and now, fellow-bloggers: Izzie (CCC Vancouver), Joe (CCC Toronto), and Victoria (CCC New York). Currently, I am working towards a law degree at City University in Central London with the ambition of becoming an art lawyer. This blog will hopefully help you to explore the substance of this thriving art scene, while it helps me stay in touch with the art world as I continue my legal studies.
When being asked to write about the London art scene, one can’t help but feel as though they would if one were asked to clean the outside of a building with a toothbrush. Not only is the scene impressively overwhelming, but it is constantly changing as new styles, galleries, artists, collectors, and economic trends (to name a few factors) endlessly mold the art world into what it is today. Nevertheless, this is what makes the London art scene such a vibrant and exciting discourse as one is never at a loss for words.
To begin, one must ask what we are talking about when we say ‘art scene.’ Perhaps this sounds like an asinine question, but, from my experience, it is best to find structure in such a massive subject, by first defining what it is in fact we are talking about. The London ‘art scene’ can be described through various vantages. For instance, a tourist would experience the London ‘art scene’ by potentially prioritizing major museums and galleries: The Tates (Britain, Modern, St Ives), The British Museum, The Victoria and Albert Museum (or “the V&A” as locals say), the Design Museum and the list continues. Perhaps the London ‘art scene’ even includes places like Madame Tussauds, The Sherlock Holmes Museum, and the Natural History Museum. To a local, the ‘art scene’ may consist of the less ‘touristy’ of destinations, going to galleries which aim more at commercial sales rather then going to government-funded institutions. Most of the time people go to a gallery with no intention of purchasing work. London hosts a myriad of galleries including places like White Cube, Flowers, The Redfern and hundreds of other institutions located from the affluent areas such as Bond Street and St James, to places like Hampstead, East London (Hoxton, Aldgate, etc), Maida Vale, Islington, and Chelsea. Maybe one would be so daring enough as to venture into the guarded doors of Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Bonham’s to check out their previews. The art market professional, may describe the ‘art scene’ as, besides the aforementioned, a world including issues such as conservation/restoration, art crime (ie recovering Nazi loot), art publications and critics, consultancy services, insurance, and even efforts invoked in maintaining relationships with actual artists. Without stating the obvious, people often forget that current practicing artists are an essential ingredient in the development of a successful ‘scene.’
As is clear, everyone has a different perspective on the definition of the ‘London art scene,’ and I will do my best to entertain most facets in my subsequent blogs. As a viewer of art, however, it is imperative to remember that the art world, especially in London, can exude snobbery and pretentiousness. When surrounded by such an exciting art scene, one can not afford to be too scared or belittled to spend as much time as you want walking into the most top-notch of institutions. The art-world requires a tough-skin and an ability to not be intimidated by insecurities such as a lack of art knowledge or a feeling of unworthiness. In large part, this is what often differentiates between the mindset of ‘tourist’, ‘local’, and ‘art market professional.’