London's Moving Up in the Art World; Three Major New York Galleries Are Opening Up in the West End within Two Weeks of Each Other -- Ben Luke Reports on the New Art Boom

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Byline: Ben Luke

LONDON is already blessed with some of the world's top commercial art galleries, from homegrown stalwarts like Jay Jopling's White Cube to global behemoth Gagosian. But the capital's art scene shifts up a gear in dramatic fashion this autumn.

In the space of two weeks from the end of this month, three major international dealers will open new galleries in Mayfair. The Pace Gallery, David Zwirner and Michael Werner are all among the New York elite (and Werner is also European art-world royalty), representing some of the world's leading artists, and regularly presenting museum-quality shows in their various galleries.

This burst of activity confirms London's position as contemporary art's European capital, an idea unthinkable even 20 years ago, as the YBAs began to prick up the establishment's ears, and Jopling and Damien Hirst started their ambitious art-world assault. Then, of course, London did not have a dedicated museum of modern art, and all three of the new arrivals see Tate Modern's presence as the cornerstone of London's success. Suddenly, every dealer in the world wanted their artists to grace this cathedral of contemporary art -- and art collectors flocked to the capital as never before. The Frieze Art Fair harnessed this new excitement, creating a moment every year when collectors, museum directors and curators simply had to be in London.

It has been a fairly slow development, but London is now indisputably the base for collectors from the old contemporary art heartland of central Europe and also, crucially, the new frontiers: Russia, Asia and the Middle East. Recession-proof art sales to these new centres are booming -- The Art Newspaper reported last year that Qatar was the world's biggest buyer in the art market in recent years, spending hundreds of millions on artists from Mark Rothko and Andy Warhol to Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst.

Apart from being a financial centre, London is an obvious point of call for art aficionados from these new territories, too: many of them have second homes here, they can get to London much more easily than they can the US, and with a less tortuous immigration process. Pace, Zwirner and Werner have figured out that to not be here is to miss out. They all deal in the high-end art that continues to buck the trends of the economic crisis. Rothko, who features in Pace's opening show, is the perfect example: a vividly colourful 1961 painting by the abstract expressionist, Orange, Red, Yellow, sold at auction in May for $86.9 million ([pounds sterling]54.2 million).

But it isn't all about money; there is plenty for art lovers to get excited about, too. Many of the stellar artists on the galleries' books haven't had permanent representation in London until now -- like Hiroshi Sugimoto whose doubleheader show with Rothko inaugurates Pace, and Luc Tuymans, David Zwirner's opening artist. The newcomers all deal in major works by modern greats, from Willem de Kooning at Pace, to Donald Judd at Zwirner and Francis Picabia at Werner.

The East End may hold on to its sharp reputation as the crucible in which London's contemporary art scene was formed, but all three of these new galleries have set up in the art market's traditional centre, Mayfair. This reinforces the polar divide of London's art scene -- head east to Bethnal Green and Peckham for the avant-garde and west to Mayfair and St James for the bluechip.

What unites these two art hotspots -- happily -- is that they're both on the up.

PACE GALLERY ? Who's behind it? Pace has five New York galleries, one in Beijing, and quietly opened a small space in Lexington Street, Soho, earlier this year, ahead of the launch of the new higher-profile Mayfair space. Arne Glimcher founded Pace 52 years ago and his son, Marc, is now its president. Both London galleries are in the hands of Mollie Dent-Brocklehurst, 41, a former Gagosian Gallery director and art advisor to Roman Abramovich's partner, Dasha Zhukova. …