Haunch of Venison began life only 7 years ago but has quickly grown into an international brand with current outlets in London, Zurich, Berlin and New York, and with future plans to open in Shanghai and Beijing. But geographical boundaries are not the only ones it has crossed. Two years ago it was bought by Christies, raising considerable anxiety in the art world (see article here) about its involvement in both the primary and secondary markets. Now it has crossed another sensitive border by asking why a commercial gallery cannot also operate as a museum space?
There are various threads that are drawn together in this new enterprise, and by the opening show Mythologies in the old museum of Mankind in Burlington Gardens, and in an uncanny echo of its physical location (between the Royal Academy and Cork street, homes of the new and old, the public and private) they are primarily to do with the circulation of art and the recycling of history.
There has in truth never been any clear distinction between gallery, museum and auction house. Private collectors have been the lifeblood of all three, as much in the past (Henry Tate, Lord Elgin) as today. Francois Pinault’s fortune in luxury goods lies behind both Christies’ business and his own art collection (some of which has been acquired through Haunch of Venison), while Anthony d’Offay’s acumen as a dealer not only resulted in one of the Tate’s largest single donations but also laid the foundations for Haunch of Venison ‘s existence. It was d’ Offay who bought the lease on their original site from Phillips’ auctioneers, and many of the artists he once showed are today represented by the new gallery.
New art acquires critical value through its careful placement in historic collections, and commercial value in its movement between the primary and secondary markets. New galleries once relied on the guardians of the past to validate the art of the present. But what if the present is positioned in the past in such a way as to short-circuit this traditional process?
This is the question posed by Haunch of Venison, a gallery that began its life in a building once occupied by Lord Nelson and then moved from the home of an imperial hero to a museum that once housed a multitude of exotic artefacts collected from the far corners of that empire. Thus the trophies of a new global economy replace those of an old one, aligning their value as future history with that of the past. The ghosts of history are everywhere present in Mythologies; Haunch of Venison has constructed a museum, a cabinet of curiosities, in which the aura of the past is summoned to the present, and in which the present is ‘mythologized’ for the future
The names of the makers may be familiar (Hirst, Viola, Tyson) rather than anonymous, but in the way they are curated, displayed and catalogued, their pristine objects become cultural commodities once more, ready to be acquired, collected, housed and archived.