Grimaldi Gavin’s inside job

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“The number of people we’ve had in to see this show have been unbelievable,” says Julie Gavin, co-director of Grimaldi Gavin on the gallery’s new show Fuel present: Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files, which opened on 17 October.

“We had 50 people in on Monday morning alone,” chips in her partner, Camilla Grimaldi.

“And our audience has been interesting,” adds Gavin. “We’ve had our established collector base come and find it interesting, but we’ve also had some very different, much younger people who maybe we wouldn’t ordinarily attract.”

It’s easy to see why – curated from the archive of criminal tattoo photographs held by the Fuel design group and publishing house, this exhibition is an extraordinary insight into the Russian underworld’s inky symbolism. Collected – and often shot – by expert criminologist Arkady Bronnikov between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s, the images were originally put together to help break the convicts’ code and have a stark formalism, and often palpable tension, that makes for very interesting viewing. Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell, the directors of Fuel, will give a talk on the collection tonight.

It’s a great new start for the gallery, which has just reopened in this basement space after nearly a year without a public face; it’s also recently rebranded, marking the fact that Julie Gavin has joined. Brancolini Grimaldi first opened in London in 2011 and immediately made a mark by representing cutting-edge, high-quality contemporary photographers such as Clare Strand and Peter Fraser; Camilla Grimaldi parted company with her former partner, Isabella Brancolini, in December 2013 and went it alone until Gavin formally joined in September.

Gavin’s background is in finance – she was Credit Suisse’s managing director of leveraged finance for seven years – but she left the city in 2009 to study art at Christies, and helped set up the White Moose contemporary art gallery in Devon in March 2013. She has been an art collector for years and originally met Grimaldi as a client; the two always got on well, they say, and soon decided to work together.

“Camilla said she wanted to stay running a gallery, she didn’t want to go back to being more of an art consultant, and asked if I would be interesting in joining her,” says Gavin. “That’s how it all came about.”

“I started meeting artists in 2004, it would have been a pity not to proceed after all the hard work we have been putting in,” says Grimaldi. “And Julie is interested in buying the art and seeing some results and growth, and getting on baord some new artists, which we have.”

The new artists are Tomoko Yoneda, Italian duo Goldschmied & Chiari, and Karen Knorr – whose series Belgravia 1979-81 and Gentlemen 1981-83, are currently on show at the Tate Britain and whose book Punks, made with RCA professor Olivier Richon, was published by GOST in 2013. As these artists suggest, Grimaldi Gavin intends to stick with contemporary photography rather than branching out into vintage work or other media, and they feel this gives them a nearly unique position in London

“There isn’t really another gallery that’s just focusing on contemporary photography,” as Gavin puts it. “We feel there’s some value in that, though we’re not saying it’s easy.”

Grimaldi and Gavin are also picking up on the galleries’ Steidl imprint – which launched in 2006 as SteidlBG – with a new book by Domingo Milella that will come out in December. “Finally we will have his first book,” says Grimaldi. “For me the artist must have a book, it’s so important for his career and the gallery. It’s a must.”

Gavin has invested money in gallery but won’t be drawn on how much; she says it’s simplistic to think that she’ll look after the business while Grimaldi handles the art, pointing out that she will take over some of their artist relationships, but adds that they both obviously have their specialisms. The pair are currently working on a three-year plan for the gallery, and say they hope to find an additional space – or maybe a new home – that will allow them to show large prints; they don’t rule out leaving Mayfair altogether and moving further East in London.

“We don’t feel we’re locked into Mayfair,” says Gavin. “We’re open to ideas…The space Camilla had [on the first floor at 43-44 Albemarle Street] has tripled in rent.

“I think it’s scaling your business to your market and to the price point of your product,” she adds. “Obviously we’re not selling works that are in the multimillions as some galleries might be doing with some of the big superstars. It’s scaling our business to match that.”

Damon Murray and Stephen Sorrell from Fuel will be in conversation with Adrian Shaughnessy at the Russian Criminal Tattoo Police Files show at Grimaldi Gavin this evening from 6.30pm-7.45pm; contact for more information. The exhibition will be on show until 22 November at Grimaldi Gavin, 27 Albemarle Street, London W1S 4DW. Tonight’s event is by RSVP only.

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Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy