The Baldwin Gallery

Creating Meaningful Collaborations and Conversations

Photographed by Anton Rodriguez
Written by Dennison Smith

The Sublunary World, April – May, 2017.
Tim Shaw RA, Meryl McMaster and David Ellingsen.

I work, live, write novels and exhibit art in my South London flat. I dislike offices and it shows: my office, despite its deep red walls, kilim rugs, thangka paintings and Barrister bookshelf – which is heavy with everything from The End of Nature to Shakespeare – has become the designated dumping ground. The rest of the house is kept pristine.

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Sunday to Tuesday, I sit cross-legged on my living room couch, working on my next novel. Wednesday to Friday, when my home becomes The Baldwin team’s headquarters, the huge farmhouse table is covered in laptops, measuring tapes and art. (The King Charles Cavalier, named Blue, couldn’t be happier than on Baldwin work days: he loves the team.) On Saturday, you might find the table covered in linen and candles and a crowd of collectors, curators and literati enjoying a private-view dinner in honour of one of our artists. (We love to serve food, whether at private views or music salons, and we always collaborate with the fabulous Cooknst, to prepare dinner for our guests.)

But the Baldwin isn’t merely a commercial gallery in an elegant apartment in Blackheath, London. We mount exhibitions in-house and out-of-house, and yes, all the art is for sale, but commerce is not our primary focus: culture is. We’re collaborating with curators from major London museums and bringing important cutting-edge musicians to perform in the intimacy of our living room. We’re breaking down the boundaries between artist and audience, as well as between disciplines. Most importantly, we’re introducing indigenous North American artists to the London art world. These are exceptional contemporary artists working on the edge between traditions, many of whom come from cultures where there isn’t a word for art, where art is so central that no one chose to name it. In such cultures, you can truly say, ‘Art is home.’

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People have compared The Baldwin gatherings to the convergence of artists and writers in the Bloomsbury group. I’ve even been likened to Lyubov Popova in the Russian avant-garde, and Mable Dodge Luhan, who brought together DH Lawrence and Georgia O’Keefe in the desert. With a little stretching, the shoe could be made to fit. Because The Baldwin is about dialogue, between artists, between disciplines (visual, literary, musical), and between cultures (European, and indigenous North American). The Baldwin is a vie to create a culture of meaningful collaboration and conversation, despite, or in response to, the prevailing climate of commodification of the arts, political and cultural xenophobia, and environmental crisis. It’s for this reason we put a special emphasis on contemporary work by indigenous artists, whose cultures and communities stand at the front line of all of these issues.

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The etymology of the verb ‘to curate’ is important to me. It is from the Latin to care, and specifically refers to pastoral care: to care for the soul. 

As I’m more comfortable speaking in humanistic terms, I think of it this way: to curate is to care for that we value most about being human, whether that is art, literature, music, community, social justice, or food.

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