The Photographers’ Gallery used to be on Great Newport Street. Split into two narrow galleries with a theatre in between it also crammed in a very tight shop and a cafe whose benches ran down the middle of the second gallery space. It was nothing if not esoteric. The creation of a new gallery has been accomplished in two stages: first a move to Ramillies Street and then a closure during which the new building has been expanded, polished and modernised. What has been revealed into the blinking not-really-Soho sunlight is …
My first emotion is disappointment which isn’t entirely fair but I felt much the same when walking in to the Royal Festival Hall after it’s gazillion pound revamp and discovering it was still the same building. So, then, this is still a slightly too narrow and impractical corner building behind Oxford Street. True, there are now proper dedicated gallery spaces, a learning floor and a distinct section for offices but with one lift for 6 floors and a lithe staircase it will still be insane on busy days.
Those gallery spaces are nice though. They conform a little too closely to standard gallery template as if the Photographers’ Gallery is very keen for you to know that you are in a place for art but they are roomy with significant acres of wall. They should, at last, be able to do justice to the Deutsche Boerse. I didn’t get to play with the camera obscura on floor 3 because there was a queue – I will go back for a go though as that’s a very nice touch – and I really liked The Wall that greets you as you arrive. It looks like an 80s MTV block of TVs but it plays hosts to ‘contemporary’ digital art. It’s very good fun even if, bizarrely, it does feel ever so slightly dated.
For the other bits, the cafe, despite being on the ground floor of a street that connects Soho to Oxford Street, is surprisingly small. I didn’t have chance to sample the coffee but will do at some point. The shop is now a more than decent size with a wall of offbeat cameras, a wall of periodicals and every book you could want in-between. There is also a nice Print Sales wing which will hopefully keep the commercial side of things ticking over – much better than being up a strange staircase as was the case in Great Newport Street.
It doesn’t feel very individual yet. There is little to differentiate this from most other galleries. But I think that will change over time. However much it fights it the Photographers’ Gallery is still the leading gallery for a medium that is both of and against the art world, and it is still the child of that maddening double space in Great Newport Street. They may long for the conventional but it’s a guarantee they will never achieve it.