Having opened not so long back in October 2015, Newport Street Gallery is proving itself to be just as cool as its founder, Damien Hirst himself. For the first time the public are offered the chance to view and get up close with his own vast private art collection, which he has been adding to ever since the late 1980's, some of which have never been exhibited before in the United Kingdom.
Based in up-and-coming art scene in Vauxhall, London, there is a feeling of excitement that a fresh new art gallery space naturally brings. Designed by Caruso St John architects, they converted an existing terrace of Victorian buildings which were previously used as theatre carpentry and scenery painting studio, revamping it to create a simple yet striking design. The zig-zagged roof, which is also the direct inspiration behind the gallery logo, leaves a lasting impression in our minds and in the urban landscape. A few weeks ago, coinciding with the gallery’s one year anniversary, Newport Street Gallery was even announced as the winner of prestigious RIBA Sterling Prize for best building of the year 2016, making a statement in itself that this is a space worth a visit.
‘I’ve always loved art and art deserves to be shown in great spaces, so I’ve always dreamed of having my own gallery where I can exhibit work by the artists I love. I believe art should be experienced by as many people as possible and I’ve felt guilty owning work that is stored away in boxes where no one can see it, so having a space where I can put on shows from the collection is a dream come true.’ - Damien Hirst
The galleries are practical, spacious and with high ceilings, making it ideal to show art of not only small but also huge scales. From the first floor you are also able to look down to the gallery room below, which enables you to see the works from a new perspective. The Jeff Koons exhibition 'Now', which drew a huge volume of public interest to the gallery, was its most recent exhibition, showing the artist's works across his 35 year career from 1979 to 2014. Jeff Koons, similar to the spirit of Damien Hirst's work, is shiny, colourful and punchy; Gavin Turk’s exhibition is due to open next month (23rd November), which will no doubt attract as great a response.
It always makes a gallery or museum visit just that more memorable when you go to its café/restaurant and find that the culinary experience or the space itself echoes the art which surrounds them. You will find in a lot of galleries or museums however, where the restaurants are more of an separate part to the gallery rather than an extension, to offer convenience to its visitors and perhaps to give them a space to break away from the art. I am convinced that with Newport Street gallery things are different.
Prior to our visit we had heard some intriguing things about the gallery's restaurant which was opened in February 2016, and so on our visit we were intent on getting first hand experience. Called Pharmacy 2, this restaurant reminds us of its predecessor of the original Pharmacy restaurant in Notting Hill, which opened in 1998 but unfortunately closed in 2003. Pharmacy 2 is another piece of art in itself; it is a space within the gallery where Hirst freely exhibits his own work. The name was derived from his piece, Pharmacy (1992) where Damien Hirst made glass cabinets with a selection of commercially packaged medical drugs displayed inside, similar to what you would find at a local chemists. The main idea was to point out the irony of the way people have a confidence or belief in medicine significantly more than they would have in art, and to suggest the delusion of immortality that the sterile and colourful aesthetics of medication can give to its customers.
The restaurant, true to its name, has devoted all its corners to everything that is recognised as medical and pharmaceutical. Hirst has touched every little detail in order to create the most bizarre and obsessive restaurant that I have ever been to. Recognisable at the far end of the restaurant wall are the medical cabinets, so distinctively Hirst's work as well as his site specific work from his iconic butterfly kaleidoscope painting series. As soon as you enter the restaurant entrance, notice the wall to your right, a wall made of tiny shelves within a thin glass case with orderly rows of pills, each meticulously placed. I am yet to know how many types of pills there are displayed. Look closely at the silver wallpaper covering all of the restaurant walls, which is really an image guide to some of these medical drugs: under each image you have the generic name of the drug, its dosage, the trade name (I.e. the name it is commercially sold), and finally the effects of the drug. It feels so OCD, and I am already feeling overwhelmed.
It doesn't stop here: take in the bar stools shaped like giant pills in pretty pastel shades; the colourful illuminated glass windows with images of magnified DNA strands; the bar table made of see through glass cabinets filled with used syringes and other medical debris; the molecule structures hanging over the bottles of alcohol behind the bar, with the word 'prescriptions' hanging above it in shining lights. It looks like guests will now be prescribed alcoholic beverages...!
Remembering that this is a restaurant, let's revert our attention to the food the restaurant serves, which is classic British and European cuisine. Hirst has teamed up again with this long-term friend and collaborator Mark Hix, for whom he created 'Cock 'n' Bull' for his restaurant Tramshed.
‘Pharmacy 2 combines two of my greatest passions; art and food. I’ve always loved Mark as a chef and his approach to food, so it’s great we’re working together on this.’ - Damien Hirst
This restaurant is definitely more about being immersed in the space rather than the food. It's an 'in-your-face' experience (it is Damien Hirst after all); Hirst has exhausted this theme of pills and prescription onto his restaurant, and it almost felt like we had been transported to another world. His passion and energy and excitement is truly inspiring.
Before we left, we lingered at the gallery shop, which sells a tempting array of clothing, jewellery and even limited edition prints designed by established and emerging artists.