Leo Babsky: I am very lucky at the club that I have a lot of space to play with (the club is four floors) so I’ve split the art program into two areas – we have the Club and Tap rooms, which we use as revolving exhibition spaces with each exhibition lasting for roughly three months at a time and then we also have a permanent collection of work which is owned by the or is on long- term loan which we are continually building and adding to so you will see more and more artworks as time goes on. These are displayed in the entrance and hallways of the club.
We have just installed a new large-scale painting by Thrush Holmes in the entrance, which I think is really stunning and we have on loan for three months.
We also have a piece by legendary photographer Juergen Teller on the top floor of the club, which is part of the ICA Edition’s collection – that piece is being returned to the ICA at the end of April so look out for it before it goes.
You’ve been working with Century for nearly two years now as an art curator, can you please talk me through your background as an artist & curator and your relationship/vision for the club?
My background is as an artist myself; I’m educated up to MFA level, which I completed at Central Saint Martins and as an artist, I have exhibited in cities such as London, Berlin and New York.
I was offered the opportunity of curating a series of exhibitions at Century and it progressed from there – about a year ago, I came on board with the company in an official capacity.
I now have my own company – LB Curatorial – with which I provide art advisory and curatorial services to clients, including Century.
I think any members who have been with us at Century for a while will have seen that the club has massively improved in the last year and the management are very ambitious about where they want the club to go.
Both the management and myself are very clear now that the Art Program is essential to the growth of the club – for the future we really want to keep going on the path we are on but bringing the standard up more and more, showing established artists whilst also keeping our commitment to being a platform for emerging/under-represented artists.
We worked with the ICA last year on the exhibition ‘ICA: ARTIST EDITIONS’ and building working relationships with respected art institutions is also something I am keen to pursue this year.
Would you say that an art program is essential to a private member’s club? How is work experienced in these spaces different to work displayed in dedicated galleries?
If you look at the leading member’s clubs around the world, a strong contemporary art program is really integral to what they do; Soho House has a comprehensive art collection, The Groucho has a long history with artists - particularly the YBA's and the Arts Club Art Program is a museum quality program. What is also interesting about the Arts Club is that the work that they show is pretty challenging - it's not really 'tasteful' or chosen to complement the décor – which is unexpected in that environment.
That's something I find inspiring, yes art can look nice but it should also be thought- provoking.
There is a sense now that having some sort of contemporary art presence in your business is an essential part of the luxury or bespoke market and I think that is an encouraging thing.
Obviously, we are not here to replace the gallery or museum experience – that is the ideal way to view art – however, I think we give our members the chance to live with the artwork in the way they wouldn’t at a gallery or museum. For a lot of our members, Century is really a home away from home and having, say, your morning coffee underneath an amazing piece of artwork that you would normally have to go to a gallery to see – that’s luxury for me.
You mentioned previously that the curation at The Arts Club can be challenging. What role does provocation play in your curation?
I would maybe use the word thought-provoking rather than provocation.
I do have to make sure the art fits into a certain framework and is accessible to a degree, although I try and make sure that the artist has a complex and multi-layered practice so even if the work we exhibit is relatively ‘safe’, if the member decides to look a bit closer at that artist’s practice they will see a complex thought process.
On another level, the club is in Soho and I think it’s kind of fun to put in a bit of risqué work here and there to reflect the history and associations that come with that.
I think one of the privileges of being a curator, is being able to influence and be part of current cultural conversations. Are there any issues that you would like to focus on next?
Absolutely. I think there are some really essential conversations going on at the moment about cultural representation and that there is an implicit and explicit bias towards western narratives across all cultural art forms.
So, in relation to that and in my own small way I am going to push myself harder to examine those issues and investigate more non-western artists and how I can involve them in what I do.
What can we look forward to in 2017 at Century? If all your wildest dreams came true, what would be next on the bill?
We have just opened a solo exhibition of Mark Melvin’s work in the Tap room which I’m really happy with.
We are also starting a series of interviews with the artists we are exhibiting or have in our collection, which will eventually be collected into a publication.
There is also talk of commissioning a site- specific artwork to go on the outside of the building ……. So, watch this space.
Lastly, how can members contact you or keep informed on what you are doing?
I can be contacted through via the Club reception or members can follow me on Instagram @lbcuratorial
Kate Duncan is an artist and creative producer for J. Walter Thompson.