Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Ai Weiwei - The Irony at The Albion
It was the first time I'd heard of the Albion Gallery in Battersea. It's a HUGE space, housed on the ground floor of a massive development by Norman Foster.
It struck a strange chord, coming across this riverside development having read about Ai Weiwei's protests at the uprooting of Beijing's communities to build the Olympics. I wondered if he was aware of how this is going on in London all the time now - and particularly near the Olympic area. OK, it's not so much whole communities uprooted along the river here, but I bet this new development at Albion Wharf (which the building is named after) replaced something already here that was perfectly fine, thank you, before Norman Foster came along.
I noticed there were some barges moored by the riverside right opposite the gallery and I could see some people standing outside on one of them, but I couldn't see where the access to the barges was. I thought, how nice that there's still some life on the river here, next to this sterile monster. You can just see a mast to the left in this picture...
I didn't hang about long enough to find out but I did notice the Royal College of Art's Sculpture studios (unobtrusive) on the walk back to the car, and fancied there may have once been warehouses on the riverside that housed artists who probably had to bugger off when the new Albion building came along.
Deyan Sudjic writes: "Everything that makes London look like London is being destroyed" in his 2003 Guardian article "Sold down the river".
Says Sudjic: "Now developers, driven by soaring land values to extract the most out of every inch of riverside, build as close to the river as they can. Whole stretches are now lined with apartment blocks, built to take advantage of the views of the river, but the result is to offer residents spectacular views of all the other ranks of balconies on either side of them, and on the other side of the river, looking back at them. In the process the Thames has been turned into something very much like a very long thin football stadium."
How true indeed. Come to Deptford and see what a mess they are going to make of it here, those money-grabbing bastards. Anyway, so what was here at Battersea before Norman Foster? A little research turned up a not too disimilar story from the one I'd imagined...What's this from 2004? "Foster vision could sink an art gallery"...
Those barges I saw, could these be the very same? Jonathan Leake's report for The Times says: "The Couper Collection, a charity supported by the Prince of Wales and Ken Livingstone, the London mayor, says it could face the removal of its barges, containing works designed to introduce youngsters from local schools and estates to modern art...For several years, while Couper lived on his barges with his collection, the adjoining land was occupied by a steel-yard and a disused bus garage whose owners paid him little attention."
"Hutchison Whampoa, one of China’s largest multinationals, had acquired the derelict bus garage and asked the architect to replace it with a luxury riverside complex of 200 flats, suites and upmarket shops."
Couper and a neighbouring boat owner had laid claim to ancient mooring rights for his bit of the riverside with the Land Registry. So Whampoa Hutchison and Foster laid counterclaims with the Land Registry and engaged top lawyers Farrer & Co to take on the boat owners, and got the Port of London Authority which controls river moorings to revoke all ancient moorings and make Couper apply for a license.
But this from Guy Adams in The Telegraph, 2002, shows how long this saga had already been going on:
THE dispute between developers loyal to Lord Foster of Thames Bank and a Jubilee art gallery has escalated into a minor diplomatic row.
Last month, I revealed that Hutchison Whampoa, the Chinese developer which is building a Foster-designed block of flats in Battersea, had threatened to cut off the Couper Collection's water and electricity. Last week the head of the Foreign Office's China section, John Virgo, interrupted a meeting between the Couper's trustees and Edmund Ho, Hutchison Whampoa's European boss.
"Mr Virgo telephoned to say Jack Straw was concerned that the matter should be settled before the Golden Jubilee celebrations," says the gallery's chairman, Canon Ivor Smith-Cameron. "I am told that he did not want to see the dispute marring relations between Britain and China."
In 2005, The Observer reported that new residents of the Albion Riverside, including Ruby Wax no less, were complaining to Wandsworth Council about the "ugly" barges and were objecting to the Couper Collection's plans to build a disabled ramp. Alice O'Keeffe reports: "Opponents of the gallery include the art dealer Michael Hue-Williams and the former chairman of Railtrack, Sir Robert Horton."
However, this good news from Tim Walker in The Telegraph in March 2007:
Having rejoiced in the title Lord Foster of Thames Bank since he was made a peer by Tony Blair in 1999, the celebrated architect now appears to be taking a proprietorial attitude to the London waterway.
Norman Foster, who is best known for the wobbly Millennium Bridge and the "Erotic Gherkin" in the City, has submitted a dossier to his local council objecting to the presence of an art gallery housed in nine barges in front of one of his most prestigious buildings. The architect claims that the Couper Collection, a charity supported by the Prince of Wales, should be refused permission to improve disabled access because the gallery's "presence on the river is unneccessary".
His company, Foster & Partners, says the barges' presence in front of his gleaming Albion Riverside apartment block in Battersea is "unsightly" and "unacceptable". He suggests that the charity, which introduces disadvantaged local children to art, moves elsewhere. "There is no reason why the Couper Collection should qualify as a river activity," he says.
Happily, Wandsworth council's borough planner has discounted Foster's objections and recommends that the gallery is given planning permission at a meeting this week."
HURRAH! THE PROJECT SURVIVED THE BASTARD MONEY MEN!
Here's the Couper Collection's website:
And no surprise that The Albion is the new gallery of Michael Hue-Williams Fine Art, he who objected to The Couper Collection. It is an impressive space because of its size. But Adrian Searle reviewed a show there in 2004 and said of the Foster building and the gallery within: "This is architecture as novelty prize marrow."
Oh well, here's a link to the Albion anyway since Hue-Williams' remit is to show artists "who provide a world-wide view of social and cultural issues", and he has championed the marvellous James Turrell, among other artists.
Not a very active site considering the money that must be washing about behind it... Oh, but what's this? Maybe his money is all tied up in a lawsuit against artist James Turrell whose work he has been promising to buyers and collecting payments for without Turrell's authority, ie, a proper contract...See this report from James Turrell's lawyer:
I wonder what Ai Weiwei would think of all this...perhaps he would say that it's a small matter compared to the actions of the Chinese state...