As Rents Rise, Will Apartment Galleries Return to London?
The directors of Final Hot Desert are presenting exhibitions in their home as a stepping stone to having their own distinct gallery space.
Installation view of Pictures, John Knight's fourth solo exhibition with Final Hot Desert. Knight prepared a traditional family meal for a private dinner held in the gallery on the day of his arrival to London from the United States. Courtesy Final Hot Desert.
Earlier this year, Final Hot Desert (FHD), the nomadic exhibition programme run by Benjamin Anderson and Marina Moro, found a home in the directors' London apartment.
After nearly five years of off-site curating from the Utah Salt Flats to England's Isle of Sheppey, using their living space as a gallery felt like a natural next move towards a permanent commercial space.
The apartment gallery has a long history for young curators, dealers, and artists worldwide. In recent years, it has become a solution to the overheated rental markets in many global capitals.
'This is what makes sense for now,' said Anderson.
'We don't have an overhead. When we make money off a show it pays our rent. It doesn't have to cover our gallery's rent first and then ours,' he said.
The apartment gallery model is particularly well established in Los Angeles, where FHD originally considered settling. Influential spaces in the city like Joseph Geagan's Gaylord Apartments and Jay Ezra Nayssan's Del Vaz Projects paved the way for galleries like Harley Wertheimer's CASTLE and Tabitha Steinberg's Larder.
This is mirrored by the success of past spaces in London such as Daisy's Room, run out of Daisy Sanchez's bedroom from 2020–2021, which showed the work of her artist peers like Brie Moreno and Gal Schindler.
Other young galleries like Sundy, founded by Francesca von Zedtwitz-Arnim and Liam Tickner, moved into their current commercial space in 2021, after three years exhibiting in their Walworth front room.
And just earlier this year, Maria Valeria Biondo and Elisa Rossetto's Des Bains set up shop on Great Portland Street after a few months in a Hackney apartment.
The goal is the same for FHD, whose plan from day one has always been to set up a commercial space. For now, the lack of financial demand offers the opportunity to maintain criticality with an experimental programme, showing the work of both emerging and established artists.
'It allows us to curate shows with a lot less pressure,' said Anderson, whose recent group show Container, featured an ambitious engine-like sculpture made of burnt plywood, mosquito mesh, and other materials by Isaac Lythgoe alongside works by Stefania Batoeva and Alexis Kanatsios.
The natural intimacy of these spaces is crucial to their success, offering not only proximity to the directors' living space but a closer relationship with the directors themselves.
At FHD this domesticity is woven into their programming, with the inaugural exhibition set up to feel like it was taking place in a living room or a waiting room, and the second show, more obviously, a dining room.
This latter exhibition, John Knight's Pictures, opened with a small dinner for which Knight prepared his Italian-American family's recipe of spaghetti and meatballs. Similarly, at the opening group show of Des Bain's Sylvester Road space, Tom Bull showed a selection of fridge magnets on the kitchen fridge.
This playful homeliness does not come at the expense of professionalism. At FHD, the space has been built out with a custom bookcase wall separating the kitchen from the exhibition. They also installed overhead gallery lighting and stripped out the radiators and electrical sockets there when they moved in.
What remains of the apartment are qualities that the directors have purposely reintroduced in recognition of the site specificity that has always carried through their programming.
'It became attractive to try to apply some of those philosophies in curating into a cleaner space,' said Anderson, whether that's through hosting a meal instead of an opening, or offering a sofa to perch on.
In London, apartment galleries have come and gone, with some graduating to their own spaces, and many others closing down.
Nevertheless, Moro said confidently, 'There will be more again.'
With private rental prices skyrocketing in London—up 5.5% in the last year, the steepest rise since records began in 2006—Final Hot Desert may be paving the way for the next wave. —[O]