'Paper' at the Ava Gallery

Degas, Hockney and Giacometti come to north Down for a quality new exhibition

Having invested substantial amounts of time and money in a bold new exhibition you’d forgive a gallery owner a few opening night nerves, but if Dickon Hall of Bangor’s Ava Gallery is feeling anxious it’s not showing. ‘We consider this to be the best exhibition we have ever had,’ he boasts.

And with good reason. Paper, an exhibition of paintings and drawings on … paper, is a fantastic David Hockneyopportunity to see work from some of the biggest names in the art world including Edgar Degas, Alberto Giacometti, Frank Auerbach and David Hockney.

The show, which is free to attend and runs from September 26 to October 18 in the courtyard at Clandeboye Estate, exemplifies the Ava Gallery’s ambition to show the highest level of Irish and international art at a time when art lovers are often starved of high profile exhibitions.

‘People just don’t get to see work of this quality and prestige in commercial galleries or even museums here. The Ulster Museum, for example, is closed. So this exhibition really is on a totally different level from anything else that is going on.’

The Ava Gallery is a commercial enterprise, and almost all the pieces on display are for sale. The bulk of the exhibition was ‘bought in Paris, London, New York … We’ve spent a year and a half putting it together and have bought really quite extensively’.

So, just how much can a wannabe Saatchi expect to pay for the privilige of netting their first Hockney or Degas? The top prices are not for the faint hearted - the Degas and Giacometti pieces both retail around the £50,000 mark - but Hall is keen to stress that there is plenty for those on more modest budgets.

‘Prices start at around £500, and we have plenty of stuff at the couple of thousand pounds mark. We believe that everyone should be able to buy a good picture, that it shouldn’t just be a rich man’s world. So they are priced very competitively. For a reasonable price people can get something of good quality by a serious artist.’

Hall is dismissive of capricious buying trends in the contemporary art market, believing instead in the value of promoting top class work.

Colin Davidson‘We try to create our own market and to show the best work we can find. There are a lot of people in Northern Ireland who are knowledgeable and interested in art, but there is nowhere for them to see quality pieces.’

A case in point is Frank Auerbach’s drawing 'Head of Julia', on display as part of Paper. This work, created last year by one of the leading contemporary British artists, is very rare and would fetch a huge fee on the open market, but Hall has managed to secure it on loan for the exhibition.

Side by side with such high profile pieces are works by Northern Irish artists. ‘It’s exciting for us to be able to ask a small number of contemporary artists we work with to take part in an exhibition such as this and for them to take on the challenge of standing alongside many of their own heroes,’ he continues.

‘We are delighted to have a vibrant new painting by Colin Davidson of reflections in a London window, as well as works by Mark Shields, Colin Watson and Gareth Reid, all of which relate in a fascinating way to the other elements of the exhibition.’

These are exciting times for the Ava Gallery. The opening of Paper marks the move to an impressive new, dedicated exhibition space within Clandeboye Estate. After restoring and converting an old stone stable and store house, the new gallery includes a large exhibition space as well as private viewing rooms.

Hall hopes that the new premises will allow the gallery to expand its exhibition schedule and private Mark-Francisdealing business, as well as making it more attractive to casual visitors. ‘It's free for everyone, and we are really trying to make it as easy as possible for people to come in and enjoy what we have’.

‘It’ll be a lovely experience for people coming to visit the gallery, even if they don’t like what’s on the wall!” he adds.

With so high quality work on show, it’s unlikely that Paper at the Ava Gallery will suffer for lack of anything interesting for visitors to engage in. Exactly how many will have 50 grand burning a hole in their pocket remains to be seen, but Dickon Hall, for one, isn’t too worried about that, for now.

‘We have been open for five years and had a number of shows like this, and they have all been successful. We feel certain that there is a market out there and we are dedicated to trying to keep that growing.’ 

Peter Geoghegan 

Paper at the Ava Gallery runs from Friday September 26 to Saturday October 18 at the Clandeboye Estate, Bangor. The Gallery is open 11-5 Tuesday to Friday and 11-4 on Saturdays.