Museum Stories

London Mall Galleries: An Interview on Covid-19 and Reopening

Gokce Dyson 19 April 2021 min Read

The evening of the 4th January united the residents of the UK once again. Everyone’s attention was focused on the third national lockdown announcement that came from the prime minister. With the order of stay-at-home, art galleries once again had to close their physical spaces where interactions once flowered. Among many affected galleries was Mall Galleries in London. After a long wait of almost four months, the gallery has finally started to welcome art lovers again. Head of Exhibitions and Events at Mall Galleries, Amy Huntington, shares her excitement on the upcoming program of the gallery.

Mall Galleries: Photograph of the front entrance of Mall Galleries, London
The entrance of Mall Galleries, London, UK. Gallery’s website.

For those of us who are not already familiar with Mall Galleries, how would you describe the Mall Galleries?

Mall Galleries is the national focal point for contemporary figurative art, and home to the Federation of British Artists. Some 3,000 works are exhibited in our galleries each year, at their annual exhibitions. 2021 marks a special year for us; fifty years since Mall Galleries opened in its beautiful home on the Mall, and the sixtieth anniversary of the Federation. We look forward to the next fifty years ahead!

The Mall Galleries is home to the nine art societies that form the Federation of British Artists. Established as a charity in 1961, FBA focuses on contemporary figurative art. The nine members of the FBA are Royal Society of British ArtistsRoyal Institute of Painters in Water ColoursRoyal Institute of Oil PaintersNew English Art ClubRoyal Society of Portrait PaintersThe Pastel Society, Hesketh Hubbard Art Society, Royal Society of Marine Artists and Society of Wildlife Artists. The societies hold their annual exhibitions at Mall Galleries. It allows emerging artists to submit their works to be shown alongside FBA’s established members.

Mall Galleries: Portrait of Mall Galleries' head of exhibitions and events, Amy Huntington, painted by Andrew James
Andrew James, Portrait of Amy, Mall Galleries, London, UK.

How did the news of the Coronavirus outbreak immediately affect you?

At the time, we were hosting three exhibitions, artworks were being received into our handling spaces and a lively exhibitions programme was planned for the year ahead. In March, we locked our doors – staff repositioned themselves at home, phones were redirected, and so began a new way of working. Our intention was to continue to provide lively exhibitions through heightened digital content.

With its walls always full of various displays from portraiture to wildlife, the gallery has had a lively program of exhibitions and events until the outbreak of Covid-19. After a challenging year where the gallery had to suspend its physical activities, spring of 2021 brings the joyful news of the gallery’s reopening. In our interview to mark the occasion, Amy Huntington, who has been supporting the gallery’s busy schedule of events and exhibitions since 2015, emphasizes the gallery’s commitment to showcasing art for the public.

Mall Galleries: Emily Gillbank's prize winner painting Three Things at Mall Galleries' annual exhibition of Royal Society of British Painters
Emily Gillbanks, Three Things, Mall Galleries, London, UK.

What has been the biggest challenge to you throughout this?

We are now over one year since the start of Covid restrictions first closed the gallery to visitors. As an arts organisation that receives no on-going public funding, we have lost significant income through the closure of our premises. Supporting the gallery; becoming a friend, buying a painting, commissioning a work or hiring space, allows us to continue to provide new artist opportunities ahead. In spite of challenging times, we remain dedicated to this – recently launching Figurative Art Now; an online exhibition and Art Prize inviting a broad range of figurative work to be submitted.

Royal Society of British Artists’ annual exhibition this year can be seen at Mall Galleries in London between 15-24 April. However, the gallery also offers visitors to view and purchase artworks on display online through the website.

Mall Galleries: Margaret Foreman's prize winner painting Seaside Festival Tulips at Mall Galleries' annual exhibition of Royal Society of British Painters
Margaret Foreman, Seaside Festival Tulips, Mall Galleries, London, UK.

Could you tell us about what we should expect to see at the Royal Society of British Artists’ annual exhibition?

The Royal Society of British Artists boasts just over one hundred of the UK’s top painters, sculptors and printmakers, all possessing the highest levels of skill in their chosen styles and media. Alongside the membership, the exhibition includes works selected from the Society’s open call. This year saw a record-breaking number of works submitted by non-members. No matter what your preferred subject matter, style or budget, you will be sure to find a work of art to enjoy.

Did you have to do anything differently when you were putting together this exhibition?

Preparations for The Royal Society of British Artists annual exhibition took place during national lockdown and therefore required heightened consideration; from safe selection of artworks to transportation and hanging. This year, each winner recorded a short video of themselves speaking about their winning work, and we shared these through our social media channels. We got to see and hear more from the artists than previously, which is really great.

Mall Galleries: Verity Child's artwork In Between Paintings currently on display at Mall Galleries
Verity Child, In Between Meetings, Mall Galleries, London, UK.

Do you have a favourite piece you would like to talk about?

The RBA annual exhibition always offers such a range of artworks to enjoy. Which makes choosing one quite difficult! I particularly like Sarah Spackman’s uplifting Here we Are; a still life of lemons – lively broad brushstrokes and pop of colour. Also, Robert Well’s The Green Blanket; a sensitive portrait in oil. Finally, Verity Child’s In Between Meetings; the cereal bowl, laptop, coffee cup and gaze, conjure up feelings and occasional moments of the last year of home working which I am sure we can all associate.

Mall Galleries: Sarah Spackman, Here we Are, Mall Galleries, London, UK.
Sarah Spackman, Here we Are, Mall Galleries, London, UK.

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