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History of Matt’s Gallery

Matt’s Gallery | A Brief History: 1979-Present | Download history as PDF

       Robin Klassnik graduated from Leicester College of Art in 1968 and moved to London where he took up a Space studio at St Katherine’s Dock. In this new and fertile context Klassnik found himself so affected by the space that he was forced to reconsider his practice. He abandoned painting and began using sculpture, 8mm film and photography. In 1971, Klassnik moved studios to Martello Street, London Fields in East London where he continued to work in sculpture and performance. At this time he exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including the Institute of Contemporary Art, Whitechapel Art Gallery and the Paris Biennale.
       Through an involvement with mail art, Klassnik met the Polish artist Jaroslaw Kozlowski and as their friendship developed Kozlowski invited him to exhibit at the alternative gallery he organised in Poznan, Akumulatory 2, in 1975. Klassnik returned to England with the desire to run a gallery along similar lines. Matt’s Gallery opened in 1979 in his studio, a gesture that did not receive total endorsement from the studio complex at the time, although the presence of galleries in locations such as this is far from unusual now.
       The Gallery was named after Klassnik’s dog, Matt E. Mulsion. Artists were invited to use Klassnik’s studio to make a work for an exhibition that was open for one week.
In December 1991 the exhibition programme was suspended in order to find new premises and the funding needed for conversion.
      In June 1993 Matt's Gallery reopened at its current premises in Copperfield Road, having purpose-built the site with funding from the Arts Council, England, the Henry Moore Foundation, and the Foundation for Sport and the Arts. The Copperfield Road building houses two 1,500 sq ft gallery spaces, a reading room, an office and archive area. With two gallery spaces exhibitions can now be open for periods of up to two months, with work in progress in one space whilst an exhibition runs in the other. Whilst the location and size of the gallery changed with the move to Copperfield Road, the character of the location and the exhibition policy are unchanged.
       The intention of Matt’s Gallery was, and remains, to provide artists with the space and time to develop new ideas and possibly new ways of working while making a new work for the space in which it is to be exhibited. In this way it was hoped to provide the best possible conditions for the making and exhibiting of fine art, in particular to allow for the fine tuning for which there is often not enough time at other galleries.
       Alongside this premise is an element of collaboration between the artist and Robin Klassnik. The philosophy which informs the making and presentation of work at the gallery and its publishing programme is unique. It has been seminal to the development of attitudes towards those processes in the visual arts over the last twenty years.
       Artists invited to work in the space are not necessarily well known and it is characteristic for Klassnik to take risks with little known and younger artists as well as with established artists who find the need for an open approach which they cannot find elsewhere. Many of the artists who have worked with the gallery and for whom it has provided this opportunity have been celebrated for their work and have represented their countries at major international exhibitions.
      In 1993 the gallery registered as a Friendly Society, thus attaining charitable status and allowing it to receive funds from a broader range of charities and agencies. The gallery pays all costs related to the making of exhibited work. This includes the cost of all materials, catalogues, cards, publicity and advertising material and the payment of a fee to the artist. Matt’s Gallery receives revenue funding from Arts Council, England and regular funding and support from The Henry Moore Foundation and The Elephant Trust. April 2002

Some Biennials, Awards and Residencies

Imants Tillers, who had his first British exhibition at Matt’s Gallery in 1983 was invited to represent Australia at the 1986 Venice Biennale; Richard Wilson was short-listed for the 1989 Turner Prize and represented Britain at the Aperto, Venice Biennale in 1986, the São Paulo Bienal in 1989 and the Sydney Biennale in 1992; Hannah Collins represented Britain at the Aperto, Venice Biennale in 1988 and was short-listed for the 1993 Turner Prize; Rose Finn-Kelcey and Jimmie Durham were selected for Documenta, Kassel, 1993; Jaroslaw Kozlowski represented Poland at the Sydney Biennale in 1990 and at Europa, Europa in Bonn in 1994; Hanna Luczak represented Poland at the São Paulo Bienal in 1994; Willie Doherty was short-listed for the 1994 Turner Prize and in the same year was given the Glen Dimplex Award for ‘The Only Good One is a Dead One’, a work originally commissioned by Matt’s Gallery; Joel Fisher, Ian McKeever, Richard Wilson and Willie Doherty have all been awarded DAAD residencies in Berlin. Robin Klassnik was short-listed for the 1994 Prudential/Arts Council Award for an individual contribution to innovation and creativity in the Arts.
In 1996, Matt’s Gallery was short-listed for the Prudential Award for the Visual Arts along with Bookworks and South London Gallery; Juan Cruz was given a Hamlyn Award in 1999 and was Kettle’s Yard Fellow for 1999/2000; Lucy Gunning and Fiona Crisp were each awarded a Wingate Scholarship from The British School in Rome in 2001; Mike Nelson was given a Hamlyn Award in 2001 and was short-listed for the 2001 Turner Prize. In 2004 Willie Doherty represented Britain at the São Paulo Bienal and Mike Nelson was selected for the Sydney Biennale; Hayley Newman was the ACE Helen Chadwick Fellow at The British School in Rome in 2005.