James Mayor on the Save Cork Street Campaign

James Mayor on the Save Cork Street Campaign
(© Phil Starling)

Cork Street is under threat, and art dealers are fighting back. On Saturday, 200 people gathered to protest against two proposed developments that could sound the death knell for this traditional gallery hub of the British capital.

Last August, it was revealed that insurance firm Standard Life Investment was finalizing a £90m deal with developer Native Land, Singapore Hotel Properties Limited, and Malaysian firm Amcorp for the redevelopment of a 7,700 sq m site at 29-30 Burlington Street. The site, which includes a stretch of Cork Street, is to be demolished to leave way for luxury apartments – and seven galleries (Adam Gallery, Alpha Gallery, Beaux Arts, Mayor Gallery, Stoppenbach & Delestre, Waterhouse & Dodd, and Gallery 27) will have to leave their premises by June 2013.

On the other side of the street, numbers 5 to 9 — which host galleries Hay Hill, Bernard Jacobson, Messum’s, and Petleys — are likely to be redeveloped by The Pollen Estate. If approved, their plans would start in 2015. Although both developers have stated they will provide gallery spaces, the new rents are likely to be out of reach for most dealers already in Cork Street.

But all hope is not lost just yet. A petition launched by Alpha Street Gallery — which spearheads the Save Cork Street Campaign — has already gathered 11,724 signatures, including those of art critic Waldemar Januszczak, artist Quentin Blake, and novelist Alan Hollinghurst. Westminster City Council councilor Jonathan Glanz has also confirmed his support.

James Mayor, the director of Cork Street mainstay Mayor Gallery, discussed the situation with ARTINFO UK.

A protest against the redevelopment of Cork Street took place on Saturday. How successful was it?

It's part of the awareness campaign, then there will be something on November 13th to involve the local community. As a form of protest, we are suing the new landlords for new leases – this takes place on the 21st of November – and they have to produce a plan for what they wish to do. As of now, we have not seen what their plans are. They say they want to put new gallery spaces, but there are different types of galleries. The beauty of Cork Street is that it has a large mix of smaller galleries. If we get rid of smaller galleries and only have these mega, supermarket-type of galleries, it means that the person who wants to buy this or this can't because all he's going to be able to buy is what fashion prevails. The small specialist dealer is being put out of business, because there won't be small spaces, and the old-fashioned, true amateur won't have anywhere to go and buy.

The nub of the issue is that the developers claim they will create gallery spaces, but existing Cork Street dealers believe they'll be priced out.

At the moment, Cork Street rent is very reasonable compared to Bond Street, and the new landlords have said that the rent will be comparable to other Mayfair art spaces. Now, Richard Green and Hauser & Wirth are capable of paying much larger prices, because their business is a different business.

[The developers] can say what they want but you know in the end that either they will find a mega gallery that will come in, or they won't and they'll let retail in. Whichever way it is, it is the death of Cork Street. At the moment, Waddington Custot, Browse & Derby, Redfern, Flowers, Alan Cristea, and Helly Nahmad are the only galleries on Cork Street that are not affected by the threat of redevelopment.

The Save Cork Street Committee has started lobbying the government, Westminster City Council and the Mayor of London. How much support do you get from politicians?

There are two issues at stake. One is: do we need more apartments? Mayfair hasn't been residential since the 19th century. Do we need to have 12 apartments that are bought by non-residents who will live there less than a month a year? At the moment, there are many people in the offices, they do some shopping, use the local cafés, bars, and restaurants, but these, in turn, will be affected. This is a thriving little community here, and it will just be chopped up. The first issue is to try to stop that. The second issue is to try to get the street listed for gallery use only, to protect it, and keep the village atmosphere.

It would appear that some of the councillors are on our side. There is also this new directive from the government, which is to try and retain areas of national and international importance, and we feel that Cork Street falls under this particular ruling. If retail is allowed into Cork Street, it just will become another anonymous area. It's interesting that Jay Joplin is closing his gallery in Hoxton to concentrate more on the West End. The West End is the gallery area. If you get rid of the great names [on Cork Street], it's going to be pretty bloody weird.

Mayor is a real landmark of Cork Street, and it was the first gallery to open there in 1925. What would it mean to you if you had to move out?

It's devastating. I'd be 64 years old, too young to die. I would like to live my working days out in Cork Street, and I don't want it to be next year.

On November 13, 2012, all the galleries in Cork Street will stay open until 8.30pm for a "Save Cork Street" awareness evening. Jonathan Glanz and artist PJ Crook will speak at Alpha Gallery at 7.30pm.