Two leading collectors have transformed a former dairy in the heart of London into a vast gallery that will compete with the Saatchi collection for the attention of contemporary art lovers.
Frank Cohen, a Mancunian DIY magnate whose collection is second only to Charles Saatchi’s, and Nicolai Frahm, a Dane based in London since 1997 with postwar European abstract art among his collecting passions, will stage shows drawing on their respective collections as well as loans from other sources.
Situated near the British Museum, the 12,500 sq ft warehouse was the former milk depot for Express Dairies, and Cohen and Frahm are retaining the building’s raw, industrial design. Entry will be free and there will be a bar lounge because, in Cohen’s words, “we think that art should be for everyone”.
Comparisons with Saatchi, who also opens his gallery to the public, are inevitable. There will be some overlaps, but the Dairy will stage one-man shows rather than the group exhibitions favoured by Saatchi. The opening show in April will be devoted to Swiss artist John Armleder. He is among older artists who, Cohen and Frahm believe, have been eclipsed by the art world’s obsession with youth.
“We’re trying to give London another space which has a completely different feel [from Saatchi’s Chelsea gallery],” said Cohen, 69, who made his fortune with DIY stores, having started as a market trader selling wallpaper from an old ambulance “in the freezing cold seven days a week”. The son of a factory machinist, he left school at 15 and recalls that his family seemed never to have money but never starved. Over decades, he has built a collection of modern British artists including LS Lowry, as well as contemporary American, German, Chinese and Indian art.