Frank Cohen, the founder of the Glyn Webb Home Improvement Stores chain of DIY shops in the Midlands and the north of England and one of Britain’s biggest art collectors, and Nicolai Frahm, a Danish art adviser and collector, have opened a space to show works of art in London. They will show works from their collections, as well as pieces owned by other collectors.
The Dairy Art Centre, a 12,500 sq. ft exhibition space in Bloomsbury, central London, was used as a milk depot until 2006. It will host two to three shows a year.
The decision to open in the capital marks a change of direction for Cohen, who lives in the upmarket Cheshire town of Wilmslow, near Manchester. In recent years, he has endeavoured to share his taste for Modern and contemporary art outside London; he originally showed his collection in Wolverhampton in 2007, in a space called Initial Access, which he had been using as a storage facility. But, he says, the reality is that very few people came to see it. “You don’t get crowds of people in Wolverhampton,” he says. The space has now closed as a public gallery.
Before that, Cohen had plans to open in Manchester—in Spinningfields, a residential, retail and business development—but the bureaucracy of dealing with the city council beat him down. “Ultimately, they didn’t understand what we were doing,” he says. In London, however, “it’s a different ball game”.
Other private collectors, including Charles Saatchi, Anita Zabludowicz and David Roberts, have opened up their collections to the public in London. The pooling of two collections is, however, unusual, and the pairing of Cohen with Frahm is intriguing. Cohen is well-known, garrulous and down-to-earth, while his younger partner—who, by his own admission, is “under the radar”—is more of an enigma. Their collecting tastes overlap, they say, but the range is broad: Frahm says this includes “in-your-face” Pop art, Zen Minimalism and existential artists such as Zeng Fanzhi. The pair, who are co-funding the Dairy, have been working together for more than 15 years.
The Dairy’s programme, unlike most of its London counterparts, concentrates on older artists. The space opened at the end of April with an exhibition of work by John Armleder (until the autumn). Around 35 of the works in the opening show are from Cohen and Frahm’s own collections, and everything else has been newly created. The founders say that they are not in the business of selling anything on—and, indeed, some of the work is so specific to its surroundings that it does not lend itself to the market. Perhaps, Cohen says, it could go on tour to other spaces. Frahm is more philosophical. “After the show, perhaps it’s not art any more.”
Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Manchester collector opens former dairy'