Donald Trump has given Vauxhall in London a huge amount of publicity recently when he declined to open the new US Embassy, though when you see some of the new buildings around the Embassy, you can have some sympathy with his views. Whatever happened to the idea of creating places for people enjoy, rather than just buildings of mixed architectural qualities.
Vauxhall was once an area with its own identity with the Pleasure Gardens at its heart, a public entertainment venue from the mid 17th to the mid 19th century, London’s equivalent of the Tivoli Gardens. Today all that is left is a public park area, a place to pass through rather than stay and dawdle, though it is still evolving, with initiatives from the Friends of Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens such as the new cherry tree walk in 2017.
On the south side, with a discretely hidden entrance, Cabinet is one of London’s newest galleries, having moved in 201 to its new building with the plan of an isosceles trapezoid with folded sides designed by Trevor Horne Architects which sits on the edge of the Gardens not far from the Royal Victoria Tavern and opposite the Vauxhall City Farm, adding to the art galleries in the area including Damien Hirst’s Newport Street Gallery which is a short walk away.
The design, developed in conjunction with the gallery’s artists resulting in the unusual window fenestration and the trompe l’oeil marble of the painted balconies, won an RIBA London Region Award in 2017. Unusually, it is built of Roman brick, which continues into the adjacent landscaped areas.
A mixed-use building, the upper floors include offices for the gallery and three flats, one of which is occupied by the gallery owner.
Currently on show are two exhibitions. On the lower floor, the first impression is of building remnants, perhaps from Vauxhall itself as it is redeveloped, but these are in fact high-definition digital photographs by Simon Thompson, his ’Urban Backgrounds’ drawing the viewer in to the detail as in the paintings of Pieter de Hooch in the 17th century.
On the upper floor, Henrick Olesen, a Danish artists who now works in Berlin, continues his decade-long explorations of bodies in the modern world. What are they? How do they relate to machines, to artificial intelligence, to enslavement, to being there but not being there…… Are bodies defined by their solidity or by their void?