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Contemporary art goes under the hammer in Durham

Fancy picking up a contemporary art bargain? David Whetstone previews an auction designed to boost the region's burgeoning art scene

Jungs 1 by Kerstin Drechsel, 2005
Jungs 1 by Kerstin Drechsel, 2005

Work by contemporary artists from across the country will be auctioned on Friday to raise money for new art studios in Newcastle.

The fund-raising auction and studios are among a host of initiatives aimed at promoting and developing the work of artists based in the North East.

Breeze Creatives, a community interest company (CIC) set up by fine art graduate Alex Breeze, and the Vane Gallery in Newcastle are jointly behind the scheme.

They have also been given access to Old Shire Hall in Durham, the Grade II-listed building where the first all-Labour county council was convened in 1909, for a series of events designed to showcase some of the most creative work being undertaken in Durham, Newcastle, Sunderland and the surrounding areas.

This is where the auction will take place on Friday evening.

Alex Breeze, who graduated from Northumbria University in 2009, says this is the first art auction Vane and Breeze Creatives have organised, although it follows a contemporary art fair at Old Shire Hall at the end of August.

He says the event was modelled on the auctions organised by art students to raise money for their final year degree shows.

Thirty five established artists, mostly based in the south but some from the North East and a couple from Ireland, have donated a piece of work to go under the hammer and all can be seen online at www.experimentalstudio.org.uk/auction

“What we’re trying to do is give people here an opportunity to buy art without going down south,” says Alex.

“People can buy online, of course, but I think most people enjoy the excitement of an auction. You get to see the art ‘in the flesh’ and have a few drinks – and it’s fun to see bidders going head-to-head.”

Atomic Disco Girl by Jaisen Yates, 2014 (left) Marriage by Tereza Buskova, 2007 (right)
Atomic Disco Girl by Jaisen Yates, 2014 (left) Marriage by Tereza Buskova, 2007 (right)

Alex thinks it’s a misconception that there are not a lot of art buyers in the North East.

“The problem is that they either go to the few galleries there are up here or they go online and buy from artists in the south.

“There are certainly plenty of people in the North East who are interested in art.”

Alex is pleased with the quality of the art due to come under the hammer and says all the contributors supported the studio project.

Among those who have donated a work of art are Tereza Buskova, an artist and film-maker born in Prague but now based in the UK, Canadian artist Derek Mainella and London-based James Unsworth who has a forthcoming exhibition in Newcastle.

The money raised on Friday will fund the building and launch of Experimental Studio, the project name for the two studios to be built at Vane’s premises at Commercial Union House, Pilgrim Street, Newcastle, where artists and creative people have established themselves temporarily before the developers move in.

Each of the new Vane studios will be given to artists for 10-week periods so between them they will sustain six residencies a year.

“We’ve picked out the two artists who will go into the studios first and one of these was about to leave Newcastle because he couldn’t find a studio,” says Alex.

Through another CIC, B&D Studios, he has helped to create 40 new studios on Pilgrim Street which are available to artists on a low rent.

Alex, who grew up in the Yorkshire Dales, worked as a portrait sculptor before going to university. “I got sick of the endless stream of children who didn’t want to be sculpted and the spaniels and labradors that had just died,” he says.

Nothing like that will be on offer at Old Shire Hall, as you will see. But it’s possible you will be able to pick up a contemporary art bargain. Viewing is from 12 noon tomorrow at Old Shire Hall, Old Elvet, Durham, with the first lot up for sale at 7pm.


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
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Mark Douglas
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