The Problem with Guts Gallery
Time of Publication: 17:54 - 15/2/22
Last Thursday I went to Corbin Shaw’s PV at Guts Gallery. It was also the inauguration of the new Guts HQ, and it felt like the right time to share some of the thoughts I’ve been having for a while. I remember coming across Guts at the start of the pandemic in 2020 and thinking that what they wanted to do was really exciting. The concept of a nomadic gallery was brilliant, and in addition to this they were representing young artists and putting them at the forefront of the London art scene. I think Guts have fulfilled the second part of their mission. They have gone on to champion incredible artists, giving them a platform to share their work and the audience to actually be able to make a living off of fine art. This is no small feat, and they deserve to be lauded for their unapologetic and fierce loyalty to the artists they work with. However - this is not an article to stroke Guts’ ego - I am writing mainly because I think they have resolutely failed at the first half of their mission.
Starting out as a self proclaimed ‘nomadic’ gallery, Guts never did enough to embrace the enormous amount of possibilities for new and exciting curation this afforded them. Despite having spent the past several years without a fixed headquarters, it seems as though nearly every show they’ve put on has very complacently played into white cube supremacy. In December of 2020, Guts Gallery opened ‘It’s 2020 for F*ck Sake’ in collaboration with Soft Punk Magazine. It was an absolutely brilliant “thirteen artist, back-to-back solo exhibition marathon…in a railway arch under Haggerston station.” This was their first in-person exhibition, following on from ‘When Shit Hits the Fan’, which took place on Instagram at the height of the pandemic. ‘It’s 2020 for F*ck Sake’ was Guts Gallery crawling into a new world after the first lockdown, and I think it felt easy to be hopeful, to do something ‘unconventional’. It’s a real shame that not a single exhibition since then has been in a space half as interesting. There’s a massive missed opportunity to tailor each artist’s work to the exhibition space, and although the simplicity of slapping paintings up onto white walls means exhibitions can run back to back without much hassle, the convenience isn’t worth what’s lost.
Virtual model of Elsa Rouy's first solo exhibition with Guts from 'It's 2020 for F*ck sake'
I’m not trying to slate Guts, I think their heart is in the right place, and they’ve had some really innovative ideas, like the “For Artists by Artists” evening they held in early 2021- where 50% of sales of works sold by an established artist were distributed evenly to all the emerging artists involved. Now though, with the permanent headquarters popping up on a street in Hackney Downs filled mainly with small repair garages, it feels a little gentrification-ey. I get that renting permanent space is cheaper than moving around, I also get that it’s logistically a lot simpler. This is why galleries have followed the model of physical establishment for centuries. However - if I’m being very honest - it feels boring. The new permanent Guts space is *shock! horror!* white cube.
Corbin Shaw’s solo exhibition ‘Nowt as Queer as Folk’ opened there last Thursday. There was Morris dancing at the PV (which felt uncomfortable, like a weird sort of spectacle), and a general theme of artificiality to the work on display, from the plastic ivy vines ensconcing the burlap posters to the gas station peonies in the pseudo well. (Folk supplanted by cottage core.) The saving grace of the exhibition were the uprooted street signs in the corners. My problem with Corbin’s exhibition, and the others I’ve seen at Guts Gallery recently, is less to do with the work or artists, rather with the general sentiment of a rushed-ness, and yet simultaneously of a slackness, an immotile potentiality.
Installation shot of 'Nowt as Queer as Folk', taken from Corbin's instagram (@corbinshaww)
Guts’ last exhibition before settling into a permanent space, 'Salon', was a massive missed opportunity. An eight person group show at The Sunday Painter in Peckham, it felt underwhelming. As with the Sonia Delaunay at the Bastian gallery I wrote about last year, the problem lies in the curation. The majority of exhibition curation at the moment undermines an audience’s ability to cope with a more complex visual space - and therefore a fallback onto the white cube is a safe option. The space, rather than being chosen to inform and become part of the exhibition concept, becomes an ascetic womb, an indifferent mediator. It also robs the audience of the rich web of interconnected understanding created by multi perspectival visual stimulation. This is a problem of systemic conformity, an issue of standard format visual language, and it should be obvious that this type of space is an austere environment for practices preoccupied with its antithesis. (Maybe it’s worth saying that I don’t think a white cube space can’t be good, it just has to be selected with an intention.)
Installation shot of 'Salon' taken by me
There are some attempts at originality, or ‘rule-breaking’ in the curation at Guts shows, but by and large they stick to the manual. At Salon, there were a few paintings installed in the corners, spanning the two perpendicular walls, but it just felt slightly…lazy. This was furthered by the fact that The Sunday Painter were holding their own exhibition in the basement at the same time. (A solo show of pastel nudes affixed to the wall in clusters, unframed. They were shown alongside 3 poems printed out on pamphlets in the hallway.) Upstairs at Guts, there was a misleading sign that the exhibition “continued” downstairs, whereas they were in fact two separate shows being represented by two separate galleries. Given that the show was Guts’ last event as a nomadic gallery, the choice of venue was poor, and it was unexciting.
I think what irks me is the slight feeling of corner cutting, a loss of finesse sacrificed for quantity and frequency, and as a result of this - the loss of the sort of charged up energy Guts carried with them when they first started putting on shows. They are no doubt fulfilling their ethos, representing young artists, my point is simply that it feels like they could be doing more. For instance, I’m very excited about the upcoming Elsa Rouy show, but I’m baffled at having found out about it so soon, whilst still in the early days of Corbin’s. I’m excited to see Rouy’s work, but I’m not expecting to be surprised by anything other than the paintings themselves. The gallery space doesn’t excite me, but if this is what Guts is trying to do (there’s definitely an argument for letting the work speak for itself and not burdening the space too much) then godspeed and good luck to them, I suppose it’s a different style of curation than my own. However, I don’t think there’s enough intention to warrant the flat spaces. The curation is not up to par with the work Guts does that bolsters representation for young people and attempts to economically reshape the art scene, and it ought to be.