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Still got it: Soho’s naughty spirit draws London’s galleries

Why galleries are moving into the West End district’s red-light zone

Galleries are moving into Soho from the rest of London Konstantin

Soho, seen by many as a last bastion of old-school London counter-culture, has witnessed the slow death of several music venues in recent years. But there has been something of a reversal of fortunes for its art scene, as a number of smaller and mid-sized galleries relocate to the West End district.

After seven years in south London, Arcadia Missa is launching in Soho this month with an exhibition by the artist duo New Noveta. Other recent arrivals include Amanda Wilkinson, who moved to Brewer Street in November after 20 years in the East End, and the Istanbul-based Rodeo Gallery, which launched an outpost in Soho in 2014.

The founder of Arcadia Missa, Rózsa Farkas, who grew up in Peckham, cites the area’s rapid development as the reason for leaving south London. “I am against gentrification,” she says. “Less of a presence in an area that many people are hell-bent on turning into one big boxpark will be positive. For reasons beyond how much more accessible central London is, it is time to go.”

The drift to Soho and its environs began around six years ago when galleries including Bartha Contemporary, Nettie Horn and Fred London moved to Fitzrovia, just north of Soho, joining Josh Lilley and Paradise Row, among others. Fred Mann, the owner of Fred London, has since set up a project space in Bethnal Green, east London.

So is Soho turning into London’s next gallery hub? Wilkinson, who moved after she and Anthony Wilkinson closed their East End gallery and went their separate ways, says the central location means higher footfall, thanks in part to nearby galleries in Mayfair, but ultimately it is not about east or west London.

“It comes down to your programme,” she says, adding that her artists, including Laurie Simmons, whose exhibition closed last month, have responded favourably to her relocation. “There’s a great vibe in Soho, which suits my gallery.”

It is too early to tell how the move will affect business, she says, but early signs are positive. Rents are not as eye-watering as Mayfair, and are even lower than increasingly trendy pockets of east London. “The days when nobody would come to your gallery are gone,” she says.