Highgate art gallery to become a dentist as rents and pandemic take a toll

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Gallery. Picture: Polly Ha

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Gallery. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A gallery is to close after more than 60 years on Highgate High Street as rents, Covid, and the digital revolution take their toll.

When Hannah Ivory Baker hands back the keys to Highgate Contemporary Art on Friday, it will end decades of artistic endeavour at the 18th Century Georgian building.

26 Highgate High Street, which will now become a dental practice, has housed a gallery and framers since the 1950s and was run in the 1980s by Noel Oddy as Highgate Fine Art, hosting exhibitions by the likes of John Bratby and Jacob Epstein.

noel oddy obit

Art dealer Noel Oddy ran the gallery as Highgate Fine Art from 1988 until the early noughties - Credit: Arno

Laurie MacLaren took over for 14 years before Ivory Baker stepped in in 2016. But a combination of high rents, and a boost in online sales during lockdown has prompted a move to Wood Green.

Highgate High street traders celebrate the Olympics,Laurie MacLaren from Highgate Contemporary Art w

Laurie MacLaren ran Highgate Contemporary Art for 14 years pictured here during the London Olympics - Credit: Nigel Sutton

"The last 12 months have been really positive with how we have grown online," she said. "With sales from other parts of the world our reach is so much greater. I've learned to ship directly from artists and find different ways to work that are not just physical.


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"It's difficult to run a gallery with constant overheads when you are selling on commission. I can rent space at The Chocolate Factory for a fraction of the cost so I decided not to sign up for another five year lease at £40,000 a year with business rates another £15,000. It's not worth the cost, particularly right now. I needed a more creative way to run the business with less financial pressure."

The Crouch End resident said the make up of the High Street with lots of "Estate agents and cafes" is also problematic.

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Dec 2016

Artsist and gallery owner Hannah Ivory Baker at Highgate Contemporary Art Dec 2016 - Credit: Archant

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"It's become a very different place and it's quite tricky to operate as a gallery. People come for a coffee and pass through. There are not a lot of browsing shops or browsing to buy like in Hampstead, Crouch End or Muswell Hill. I think the High Street will feel it when we go, and we will continue to see the impact of lockdown over the next few years."

The 33-year-old plans to use the Chocolate Factory as a studio, and exhibition space, continuing to represent around 30 artists under the name Highgate Contemporary Art.

"There has been a gallery and framers in this building since the mid 50s and I wanted to keep the name. It was the first place I sold one of my pieces, and a lot of artists like Peter Brown and Tim Benson have come through and gone on to establish themselves. It would be a shame to lose that rich heritage. Every time I open a draw, a catalogue from 50 years ago falls out. It's a real treasure trove and important to keep a part of it."

https://www.highgateart.com/

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