After cutting his curating teeth running a project space for three years based in the front room of his Paddington Flat, Anthony Wilkinson opened his first gallery behind an unshowy grey façade on Cambridge Heath Road in 1998, at a time when you could still count the number of commercial galleries in the area on the fingers of one hand.
Co-run with wife Amanda, over the past nine years Wilkinson has become an established presence on the East End art scene with a roster of respected British and international artists including George Shaw, Silke Schatz and Matthew Higgs. Wise enough to have bought their space – “I’ve seen a lot of people rent spaces when they were cheap, bring up the area and then get priced out when landlords realised they could triple the rent,” Anthony explains – the Wilkinsons have since sold up and invested in a new gallery up the road on Vyner Street. Rather than take over an existing space, as many of the more recent artworld residents of the street have done, the Wilkinsons have brought in architect Bobby Desai and knocked down, redesigned and rebuilt an impressive new 6,000 square-foot building housing two museum-sized galleries plus an additional project space. They open this week to coincide with September’s Time Out First Thursdays evening of events with a show by German painter Thoralf Knobloch, plus a film installation by late 1970s New York film collective ‘On the Collective for Living Cinema’ (a collaboration with New York’s Orchard Gallery) in the project room.
It may be a major upgrade in size and style from their original gallery but both Anthony and Amanda emphasise that it’s not about a change in artists or ethos. “We put a lot of thought into designing the spaces with our artists in mind,” Amanda explains. “The downstairs space is more raw, with no natural light, perfect for showing video work by artists like Joan Joanas, whereas the upstairs space is more beautiful with skylights, which will be much better for our painters. The project space will be a much more spontaneous and flexible gallery. It’s really about allowing our artists to push themselves. Sometimes when curators see artists in a smaller space they get nervous about how their work might translate if they were offered a show in a major public gallery, so we want to encourage our artists to use and experiment with the spaces.”
While many East End gallerists seek out a West End postcode when it’s time to expand, the Wilkinsons had no hesitation about remaining in the east. “Vyner Street has always had a great feel about it,” Anthony says. “We didn’t decide to move here because it had become a thing; we’ve been in the area for a long time and when we saw the original building we knew that it was right. Initially we hadn’t planned to knock it down and start again but in the end it became more cost-effective. It’s been quite a challenge to create a building from scratch – you keep having to remember to include the really obvious things – like a letterbox, but we’re really happy with how it’s turned out. It’s still Wilkinson; it’s just our gallery in a different and much more exciting space.”