Kemistry

Work / Opinion

Why we should all care about the future of London’s Kemistry Gallery

In a special Opinion piece, Rob Alderson explains why the closure of London’s Kemistry Gallery is a cause for concern, but why its ambitious future plans need to be encouraged. You can add your thoughts using the discussion thread below…

By now you’ll have probably heard the big news from the streets of Shoreditch. It’s garnered a lot of attention, had a lot of press coverage and is part of a wider story about the changing face of the area. Yep, identical twins Alan and Gary Keery are opening the UK’s first Cereal Cafe where patrons can enjoy more than 100 breakfast varieties from around the world, with their choice of 13 kinds of milk and 20 different toppings. In other news Kemistry Gallery, one of London’s most interesting, most important and most consistent small galleries is being turfed out of its Charlotte Road home after a new landlord rocketed up the rent.

I don’t mean to sound bitter about the Cereal Cafe – I wish Alan and Gary well. But taken together these two stories are part of something bigger and more troubling. The arguments around the changing nature of east London are well-rehearsed and I don’t need to rehash them here. The edging out of Shoreditch’s creative soul as big brands and moneyed speculators move in has been going on for years.

But maybe this should be a line in the sand. The interest in the Cereal Cafe is understandable but it points to a dangerous acceptance of Shoreditch as London’s silly younger sibling, egged on by some, tolerated by all because of the amusement it provides for the grown-ups. But Shoreditch once stood for something better, and the Kemistry Gallery was one of its gems. Its exhibitions feted some of the leading names in graphic design, illustration and graphic art (Saul Bass, Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast) and introduced a host of emerging stars to the wider world (Parra, Geoff McFetridge, Jean Jullien).

Now Kemistry is looking to its own future. It has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance a pop-up show in February next year featuring 60 works from artists who have exhibited there over the past decade.

But this is just the start; the long-term vision is much more ambitious. As Graham McCallum, creative director of Kemistry explains: “Out of this crisis we now have a one-off chance to build on Kemistry Gallery’s fantastic and unique successes over the past decade, and give it truly sustainable future as the UK’s leading centre for discovering the very best of international graphic design.”

This is a terrifically exciting prospect; a chance to elevate the status of graphic art and design in the UK to unprecedented levels. It would also be a great way for London’s creative community to show its imagination and resilience in a city that increasingly seems not to care.