Reacting to the sad news that The Gallery in the Baltic Triangle has closed, Getintothis’ Laura Brown mourns the passing of a radical space for undervalued artists.
The Gallery in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle has closed.
No fanfare, no press release, just an announcement on the Instagram feeds of its two curators, Martin Green and James Lawler.
The Baltic has rapidly evolved over the past five years. Now it loses another independent space to developers. Whatever The Gallery will be in a year, it’s unlikely there will be many artists in it.
DuoVision’s curation of The Gallery celebrated older artists. Many were LGBT. Most hadn’t exhibited before, many had never had a solo show.
Duggie Fields, Jarvis Cocker, Pam Hogg, Whitaker Malem, Peter Ashworth, Luciana Martinez; some names you will recognise, some you might not.
Martin and James described themselves as working with “undervalued” artists. There are few better examples than Caroline Coon.
Known as a music writer, photographer, former manager of The Clash, founder of drugs advice agency Release and feminist trailblazer, her first solo exhibition The Great Offender was in Liverpool, shown at The Gallery in 2018.
As Louisa Buck wrote in the Art Newspaper as The Great Offender opened in Peter Doig’s London TRAMPS gallery in 2019, “Coon is no stranger to having her work overlooked”.
Only as she entered her seventies was the strength of her powerfully didactic artwork, flipping the narrative from men to women, recognised.
Not everyone gets the recognition they deserve in their whole lifetime. Not everyone is an ingenue whose burnishing talent is spotted in their teens. No one is an overnight success.
There is a strange idea that if you haven’t featured in the New Yorker or had your own show by 30 then you’re a failure. That isn’t just BS it’s damaging. Life is no more a reality TV show than it is a newsfeed.
Losing another independent space in Liverpool is a blow. Again. And there’s only so many ways you can articulate your fury about it.
The most significant thing independent space gives you is freedom. There’s a bravery that comes from not having to answer to anyone, from being slightly off the beaten track. When you’re outside of an arts ecosystem you have the freedom to pick the artists you want, to tell the stories you want to.
You have to know that there’s an alternative. Few of us are born recognising the established, mainstream way of doing things is not the only way. It takes trial and error, then more trial, more error, a little vodka, and then some pizza before we recognise that actually, our way might not suit everyone but that doesn’t really matter.
Even once we’ve found our tribe it’s hard, but damn they make the road much easier.
Weirdly, it’s been easier for DuoVision to get their point across in London than it has in Liverpool.
The slightly raucous affair of their private views in Liverpool have made them attractive to a certain crowd in London. That image of Liverpool being a place where anything goes may feel anathema to some in, but it burns bright for many outsiders in other places.
Peter Ashworth’s opening in Clerkenwell in 2018 was sardine-like standing room only. At Caroline’s launch at TRAMPS last Autumn I stood next to a friend and the two of us remarked we needed Shazam, but for faces from London’s 80s club scene. The Gallery was filled with club kids and Sir Nicholas Serota.
Even that success hasn’t been overnight. Martin and James have grafted. Making contacts, understanding artists, building a reputation, show by show by show. These things take time.
Social media has helped them to have a much larger presence outside of traditional media, which in turn has helped that traditional media recognise they’re there. It’s also helped them find artists. In the group show of 2019, Foreign Trade, 50% of the artists were ones they’d found on Instagram.
Our filter bubbles make it harder and harder to see past what’s at the end of our own noses.
Algorithms make it easier for us to just navel gaze and see more and more of the things we just like, and like, and like, and like.
Seeing something challenging, alternative, radical, weird, offensive is a privilege, not something to rail against, otherwise we all just beige into the mainstream.
We need spaces that offer a counter to our culture that is so often our friends just telling us to nod along and say “yes” to whatever we say.
It isn’t the final chapter for DuoVision (they currently have a group show at The Potteries Museum in Stoke called KAPOW!) and more exhibitions will come this spring and summer.
A new space will emerge, somewhere, at some point, on their own terms.
But for now, raise a glass and say farewell to another fallen space.