So, a major new gallery launched in Camden in late 2012 with little more than a passing mention in the news. But DRAF – or the David Roberts Art Foundation, formerly based in Fitzrovia – owns a whopping 1900 pieces, and represents 700 international artists. More importantly, we think it’s set to be the north London art hotspot of 2013, and certainly a must-visit for anyone living locally.
DRAF is a 12,000 sq ft former furniture factory built around 1880 (which the blurb says reminds us that ‘a museum is a production site’, and visitors are ‘co-producers’), its interior simply painted stark white. And it’s further evidence that, these days, everything in Camden is tucked away, whether it’s cool bars, galleries or quirky vintage shops. Fittingly, the gallery is off the grubby main drag of the lower high street, which makes its impact even greater.
Started by property developer Roberts in the 1990s, the collection includes work from Anish Kapoor, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Tracey Emin, Yayoi Kusama, Damien Hirst, Roy Lichtenstein and Man Ray.
According to the curators, the current exhibition is fired by a Proust quote (‘Museums are houses full of thoughts’). It’s actually called A House Of Leaves, a reference to US novelist Mark Z Danielewski’s eponymous novel in which different storylines, told in different styles, intertwine. The story is centred around a house which keeps changing because its interior becomes larger than its exterior.
The exhibition has been conceived to last six months (till March) and is what curator Vincent Honore calls ‘a symphony structured in three movements and an epilogue’, each using a single work as a starting point. In the first movement that work was Echo VIII, a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois, which was followed by Fuji, an abstract painting by Gerard Richter, and lastly Silent Score, by Pierre Huyghe (from Jan 17). So over half a year works are replaced by others to alter the general context and naturally evolve from one movement to the next. Clever, huh? But actually a simpler idea than it sounds.
On a rainy autumnal visit we enjoyed much of the first movement, including Katy Moran’s abstract acrylics and German artist Nikolas Gambaroff’s ‘Untitled,’ made of newsprint. Best of all were two works by Matthew Day Jackson: the vast August 6, 1945, made from lead and depicting a bombed-out London (although its title refers to the date the US bombed Hiroshima); and April 10 1964, his rendition of a cover of Life Magazine which features a home damaged by the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964. After the gallery reopens next week you have a week or so to catch the second movement, or wait until mid Jan for the launch of the third.
It’s more than time Camden had a world-class art gallery – and this might just be it. The atmospheric space, with its high ceilings, and real sense of history, is worth a wander itself. Together with the Zabludowicz, Rankin, the charming Cob Gallery, and Frieze, DRAF is, we reckon, further evidence that Camden is now back on the map in the art world.
Finally, one piece of advice: we think it’s crazy to close the gallery on Sundays, when the area is at its busiest. In fact, daily opening would be preferable; a true statement of intent.
Words: Stephen Emms