Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery

Damien Hirst's 'Cock and Bull' (2012) at the Tramshed

Damien Hirst’s ‘Cock and Bull’ (2012) at the Tramshed

When Tramshed first opened in May 2012 (just as White Cube closed the doors on its Hoxton branch) the main attraction was the Damien Hirst installation that takes centre stage in the vast, gleaming dining hall.  While Tramshed is permanent home to work by Damien Hirst, Gary Webb and wallpaper courtesy of Jake and Dinos Chapman, there is also a gallery located beneath the restaurant with a rolling programme of exhibitions and events.  As a space, the closest parallel with Cock ‘n’ Bull is the art programme that Habitat used to run throughout the ’90s and early ’00s, commissioning both new and established artists to make work for their stores, gaining a reputation for what they showed rather than where they showed it. There’s a similar identity brewing around Cock ‘n’ Bull, it has all the benefits of the association with the HIX brand but functions as an independent space.

Initially the gallery was directed by art historian and curator Niru Ratnam. Rebecca Lidert stepped in later that year and continued to run the programme introducing HIX LIX art dinners (whereby artists showing in the gallery would work with Mark Hix to devise a menu that cross-referenced their work with his recipes), pop-up shows, auctions, The HIX Award, book launches and charity events. There is something about Rebecca that you don’t find very often in gallerists: she’s absolutely non heirachical – at the private view, you’re as likely to find her schmoozing with the Shoreditch art crowd as pitching in behind the bar. She puts this egalitarian, friendly attitude down to her background, working with restaurants and members’ clubs. An attitude that she carries through to the gallery ethos.

When I ask her what the past year has been like she lets out a defiant sigh, explaining that the first few months were spent fighting to establish the space as a gallery in its own right. Her pet annoyance is being mistaken for the (Cock’n'Bull) sandwich that’s served in the restaurant.

“What’s interesting about reviewing the programme after a year, is that I can see there needs to be a balance – between the charity show, the group show, the mid-career show” She comments, before continuing, ”There are works that are intellectual, some that are interactive and some that are just a bit of fun. Ultimately, each one feeds the other; for example, because Breed was a very commercial show it brought in collectors and a more design based audience. Every show I have will attract a totally new crowd, but part of that always includes a roll over from a previous show, so you end up with a good mix.  Eventually, Cock ‘n’ Bull will have its own defined crowd, but at the moment I’m making crossovers”.

Rebecca explains that because she doesn’t have the same financial pressures as most commercial galleries she has the freedom to switch between shows that are openly commercial, to working with new artists who have never shown before, giving them the opportunity to do whatever they like in the space from large scale installations to fashion shows to live performances.

Neil Hedger ‘MMXIV DEVORABIT’  18 April – 9 May 2014

Neil Hedger – ‘MMXIV DEVORABIT’ exhibition on 18 April – 9 May 2014

The current show at Cock’n'Bull is a solo exhibition of sculptures by Neil Hedger, a Goldsmiths graduate who has turned magazine and billboard adverts into small scale plaster sculptures finished with areas of gold leaf. Dotted throughout the gallery on plinths, Hedger’s plaster and gold works are like mini-monuments to the temple of fashion and advertising via classical sculpture.

After Hedger, Cock’n’Bull are hosting a show spanning 30 years of documentary photography by Jeremy Hunter before swiftly moving on to a group show curated by Eleven Gallery then a solo show by Xavier Ellis. In between all this there’s life drawing classes and a book launch for fashion photographer Rebecca Thomas’s new self published title What Would Julia Do? collating images from several years of documenting cult DJ and writer Princess Julia.

Jeremy Hunter – 'Let’s Celebrate 365' exhibition on Friday 9th May – Monday 12th May

Jeremy Hunter – ‘Let’s Celebrate 365′ exhibition on Friday 9th May – Monday 12th May

'Eleven at Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery'  Exhibition on 16 May – 12 June

‘Eleven at Cock ‘n’ Bull Gallery’ exhibition on 16 May – 12 June

I ask Rebecca what kind of visitors the gallery attracts, and how it splits between those on the east end gallery trail who go specifically to see the work with the unsuspecting diners who are out for lunch unaware that a gallery even exists downstairs, Rebecca confirms that there is certainly a division then elaborates;

“weekend crews seem different again – they’re ready to be curious, to see what they’ve missed during the week, they’ve switched their work phones off and they’re on their own time and excited because they’ve found something that’s a little secret”.

Veteran gallery goers are used to searching out these kind of hidden venues, it isn’t uncommon to find exhibitions above pubs, the back room of a hairdressers even somebody’s flat.  What’s most unusual about Cock ‘n’ Bull, however is that it has the feel of rough and ready space but it’s in a high class establishment. It’s perhaps this dichotomy that makes it work.

While it’s positioned in the trendier part of town, and has a casual hang-out bar area at the back (Mini Mark’s), Tramshed serves the same HIX quality food you’d find in Soho or Mayfair and therefore attracts a very balanced clientele. During the week there’s a glut of media types who work in the area, out for a business lunch, and at the weekend an influx of families. What’s interesting is that this provides a ready-made audience for the gallery (often, while waiting for a table, diners are directed downstairs to see the show). The weekend Sunday paper-reading culture crowd are more likely to go to Tramshed for the food than for it’s art, so for them, the gallery is a bonus. This kind of shoo-in is something most east end gallery start ups only dream of.  It’s a bit like going to Tate Modern and having a coffee in the cafe afterwards, except the other way round – with better coffee.

 

- Gemma de Cruz, Editor – Art & Music Magazine

 

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