If a friend described John Hoyland’s paintings more than once last night as “Rothko on steroids”, they certainly had an equally audacious space in which to be displayed. Damien Hirst’s new opening, Newport Street Gallery, flexes his monetary muscles like never before and brings vibrancy to a rather random back street somewhere between Vauxhall and Westminster.
The red brick building is lined with vast and glistening white rooms, connected at intervals by sweeping oval staircases that wouldn’t seem out of place in a palatial Nick Jones venture. The bold show, which surveys Hoyland’s career from 1964 to 1982, is arranged largely chronologically and divided distinctly by spaces into stylistic periods, dwindling only in the rather less convincing nude palettes of his early ‘70s works.
The paintings are naturally all from Hirst’s personal stock, the Murderme Collection, and the inaugurating show establishes the premise of the gallery: a public space to house private possessions. It is at once the most selfless, and most self-indulgent act. Of course it is ultimately a vaguely commercial venture too, with a store just along from the entrance, and a restaurant – Pharmacy², a reincarnation of the original, spectacular dining experience – which will open in 2016. Newport Street Gallery is sure to create a surge of openings in the area, and it is incredibly refreshing to see something so genuinely exciting emerge from Hirst’s schemes, which seem oft-reported and yet unhurriedly materialise in relative silence. This one took eleven years, for example. The scale of the rooms indicates that ambitious projects are likely to be in the works for the coming years, and presents the gallery physically as a rival to White Cube’s Bermondsey outpost, which has grown into a healthy obsession of mine recently.
The show itself is facile beauty – easily digested, but not in a bad way. Quite the opposite in fact, you want to run through the ground and first floor spaces and take everything in at once, in particular the gradated acrylic paintings towards the beginning. The final room features the most diversely coloured canvases, which have been layered with such tangible paints that they appear like giant waxy crayon drawings, in stark comparison to the earlier and more subtly realised amorphous blobs.
Power Stations seems pertinent both in the design of the gallery by the practise Caruso St John, which preserved industrial detailing such as metal cross-beams from the five original listed buildings, and in the nature of Hirst’s studio as an art powerhouse – perhaps a self-referential gesture. There is nothing startlingly maverick about the beginning of Newport Street Gallery other than the fundamental, however – that Damien Hirst has made this. It is serious stuff.
John Hoyland, Power Stations: Paintings 1964-1982 opens today, and will remain on view until April 2016.