The London Design Gallery at the border of art and design

The London Design Gallery at the border of art and design

It was love at first sight, said Loïc Le Gaillard, one of the founders of Gallery of the carpenters’ workshop (CWG). The design gallery’s London headquarters had been in Mayfair for 16 years, where, he says, it was anchored in a white cube exhibition space, “having the same language as everyone else”.

Wanting to be able to organize more ambitious projects and exhibitions, he contacted a real estate agent.

“I said, ‘find me something different,’” he said with a laugh during a video interview. “A week later, the guy knocks on my door saying: ‘Loïc, I found something that’s way too big, it’s way too expensive, it’s absolutely not where you want to be. But I think you should see it.

Walking into the 43,000-square-foot space, a Beaux-Arts building in no-man’s land north of trendy Notting Hill, Le Gaillard knew it was a place where he and his co-founder, Julien Lombrail, , could push the limits and have fun.

“The vibrations are incredible,” Le Gaillard said. “We’re going to be able to achieve great things there.”

The sprawling space, Ladbroke Hall, was built at the beginning of the 20th century as an automobile factory. It then lived other lives, as a television studio and eventually an events space, until Le Gaillard and Lombrail bought the building and transformed it into a multi-purpose space, a 30 million pound project (around 37 .5 million dollars).

Opened in its current form just over a year ago, Ladbroke Hall now houses not only two floors of exhibition space for the Carpenters Workshop Gallery, but also Pollini, a prime Italian restaurant, a space for private events, a small concert hall that hosts weekly jazz evenings on Fridays, and a private bar for those who pay to become gallery patrons. Later this month, an extension to the restaurant’s bamboo garden will open, and in early autumn a huge underground venue for larger shows will open, in time to host an exhibition coinciding with Frieze London.

To make this £30 million investment profitable, the gallery must of course sell its works. Next week at TEFAF New York, the gallery will present a handful of its best-known artists, including Nacho Carbonell from Spain, Vincenzo De Cotiis from Italy, and Ingrid Donat, a French-Swedish decorative artist (who is Lombrail’s mother). It will also feature some of its new creators, like Marcin Rusak from Poland.

“This will be the first time for me,” Rusak said of his exhibition at TEFAF New York, adding that Carpenters Workshop’s New York space will also host an exhibition of his work during the fair.

“Ever since I started studying design,” he said, “Carpenters Workshop was at the top of my list, and you know, there was like this holy grail of a gallery to have, and I I thought for a long time that it was unachievable.”

While Lombrail grew up around design, Le Gaillard did not, but was instead exposed to the art world through his father who owned a gallery. He left his native France for London at age 20 to study corporate finance and worked in the cosmetics industry for almost 15 years.

“I decided in my mid-30s that I really wanted to do this,” he said, “to invent a new language when it comes to showing design.” Much of this was inspired and influenced by the work of Druga Dutch design firm where, as Le Gaillard describes it, form was more important than function.

Between Lombrail and Le Gaillard, they had a good knowledge of the art world. However, Le Gaillard said, they both felt there were already “too many players” in the space.

“Our pockets were not deep enough to hope to become a significant player, because it became a very expensive game,” Le Gaillard said of the contemporary art world. “We actually thought that this is precisely where we think we have something to say and where we can also coach or direct certain artists towards developing objects, works of art, that are on the border between art and design.”

This idea of ​​changing shape in the industry has appealed to many of the designers they represent.

‘They removed the boundary between art and design,’ says influential Dutch designer Martin Baas, whom the gallery represents, wrote in an email. “It used to be a never-ending discussion into which category certain works (like mine) belong, but since the CWG, that discussion has vaporized.”

Taking their name from an old carpentry workshop in Chelsea where Le Gaillard had his office, they convinced Donat that they should, Le Gaillard said, “take this journey together.” Soon after, she became one of their first decorative artists.

Part of that journey was creating a design atelier outside Paris eight years ago, where up to 70 artisans can work at any one time. Another plan was to open additional galleries in Paris, New York and Los Angeles.

“We’re always exploring, experiencing new things and like everything, if you don’t try, if you don’t explore, if you don’t move forward, you stay still,” Le Gaillard said. “So it’s about how do we capitalize on that, but try to go a little bit further without reinventing the wheel all the time, but at least trying to see how can we create some of the old techniques with the new techniques and see if it can be constructive and something valuable for artists.

Over the years, they not only built their group of artists like Rick Owens, Wendell Castle, Johanna Grawunder and Karl Lagerfeld, but also Karl Lagerfeld, whose sculptural works they created. exhibited in New York in 2019 — but also a clientele that includes Brad Pitt, Tom Ford and Dasha Zhukova.

“They have a very close relationship with their artists,” wrote Nicole Hollis, a San Francisco-based interior designer who worked with the gallery when commissioning a custom dining room for a major collector. She added that the gallery has “a special ability to allow them to create their best work and experiment while guiding them on what the end user is looking for.” It’s a balance.

Julia Peyton-Jones, former co-director of the Serpentine Gallery in London and currently senior global director of special projects at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, agreed with this assessment. Carpenters Workshop, she wrote in an email, “looks at the culture as a whole and explores” areas where disciplines like design, sculpture and art overlap. “This is what sets them apart from other galleries,” she writes. »

Although taking over such a gigantic space at immense cost is a risk – something Le Gaillard acknowledged – Carpenters Workshop’s new home certainly has the potential to become a new arts hub in a part of London that has long been left off the cultural map.

With the new underground space opening this fall, there’s an opportunity to move art and design lovers to North Kensington – an area between more desirable neighborhoods like Notting Hill and Queen’s Park – for lunch, an exhibition and a jazz concert. to end the day.

“Carpenters Workshop makes us think about what we mean by design,” wrote Deyan Sudjic, former director of the Design Museum in London, in an email. “He has a courageous approach, he is willing to accept the most difficult voices and be bold in what he does. No one else would have rivaled Ladbroke Hall, with its huge and ambitious spaces.

Baas, the Dutch designer, agreed. “They think much bigger and more comprehensive than other galleries,” he writes. “Perfect presentation, long-term vision, bold investments and they keep pushing.”

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Mattie B. Jiménez

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