40 Years at Cadogan

Throughout 2020 Cadogan Contemporary is celebrating its 40th year as one of London’s longest-standing Contemporary art galleries.

The gallery started in 1980 in a small building in Pont Street where Christopher Burness lived and operated his book publishing business. Christopher asked his good friend Rafael Valls, the Old Master dealer, to loan him some paintings to start exhibiting the ground floor. In no time, a small stable of contemporary artists had begun to feature in the gallery. With no previous experience in the art world and only a layman’s passion for art, he plowed a slightly idiosyncratic furrow to establish a distinct identity, which down the years has resonated with artists and collectors alike.

Over time, the gallery has come to represent generations of artists including: Sargy Mann, Deborah Tarr, Elise Ansel, Janette Kerr and Sam Lock, with whom Christopher has a powerful, shared aesthetic connection. His empathetic approach and distinct vision earned him a reputation for truth and reliability, with artists and collectors alike. His approach was fruitful and the gallery became a success. Burness worked closely with his artists to “allow them to really flex their artistic imaginations’, yet he rarely tried to influence their work, stating: ‘I think I always had an informal approach with my artists that was never like the ‘usual’ dealer artist relationship because I had no idea of what that meant or how it worked. I had experience with dealing with writers but never artists. In their case I was more interested in what was less easy to verbalise.’

One of the defining moments for the gallery was in 1986 when Christopher met Sargy Mann, an artist who in time came to epitomize the gallery’s aesthetic sensibility. With a host of collectors, many of them literary greats, including: Kingsley Amis, John Betjeman, Cecil Beaton, Iris Murdoch, Cecil Day-Lewis and his son Daniel Day-Lewis, Mann became something of a well kept secret within discerning circles. Over the next 30 years, Mann and Cadogan Contemporary presented 18 exhibitions together, including a number after Mann lost his eyesight in the early 2000s. This year Cadogan Contemporary will be presenting a Sargy Mann retrospective exhibition in October.

Christopher’s discerning taste and artist-led approach continues down the family line with his 29 year old son, Freddie, who has been Director of the galley since 2018. Freddie has built upon the strong foundations that his father laid, with an aesthetic sensibility refined through a life with artists. Just as Christopher did before him, Freddie is working closely with a new generation of artists and collectors. This includes the painter Sam Lock for whom he has found an international audience, enabling the artist to push his practice in bold new directions, and Deborah Tarr, whose popularity has afforded her the space and reassurance to develop paintings over extensive periods of time. Still in his twenties, Freddie is representative of a generation of young gallerists around the world who are rethinking traditional models and dealer/artists relations, to usher in a new dawn for the commercial art world, built on open communication, transparency and collaboration.