Galleries in South London are like buses. Nothing much happens and then three come along – the CCA at Goldsmith’s in New Cross, the Science Gallery at King’s College London at London Bridge, and now the Firestation at the SLG on the borders of Camberwell and Peckham.
The South London Gallery (SLG) was established as the Passmore Edwards Art Gallery and Institute in 1891, in its new building with an appropriately exuberant façade. As Peckham Road had been developing, a new fire station, a utilitarian brick affair, had been built across the road some years earlier in 1867, one of 26 built across London to designs of Edward Creasy Jr.
Looking at it now, it must always have been cramped as a fire station, (it was after all built for horse-drawn fire wagons), despite extension upwards, and a new fire station was built in the 1920′s after which the old building was sold to Kennedy’s, a local firm of butchers and sausage-makers to become their offices and factory.
The building was sold again in 2008, but remained derelict until an anonymous benefactor bought it and donated it to the SLG.
Refurbishment by 6a architects has created new gallery and other spaces over four floors. The inaugural exhibition which moves across the road to include both buildings ‘Knock Knock’ looks at humour in art or humour caused by art – all trying to bring a much-needed smile to visitors. It’s quite a difficult building, given it has relatively small spaces across the four floors, but the new lift and staircase bring these together and the SLG has the complimentary larger space across the road.
If thus inaugural exhibition is anything to go by, South London has an ace new gallery.