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Art collectors Frank Cohen and Nicolai Frahm on their new project

Published 28 February 2013

Take two art collectors, a disused milk depot in Bloomsbury and just add artists. Get a taste of what’s in store at the Dairy.

  • From the Spring 2013 issue of RA Magazine, issued quarterly to Friends of the RA.

    This spring, in London, a new not-for-profit art space opens in a former Express Dairies milk depot. It is the brainchild of contemporary art collector Frank Cohen and art consultant and collector Nicolai Frahm. Manchester-based Cohen (dubbed ‘the Saatchi of the North’) who made his fortune with a chain of home decoration stores, has been collecting art since the early 1970s, guided by his own taste and purpose – from Modern British and the YBAs, to leading European and American contemporary artists and work by emerging Chinese and Indian contemporary artists. For the past 15 years or so he has collaborated closely with Frahm; the son of Danish collectors of post-war abstract art and a collector in his own right. The result is the Dairy, a brand new art space in Bloomsbury.

  • Collectors Nicolai Frahm and Frank Cohen meet for coffee in Frahm’s flat in west London to discuss their John Armleder show. His 'Untitled', 2008, is on the wall

    Collectors Nicolai Frahm and Frank Cohen meet for coffee in Frahm’s flat in west London to discuss their John Armleder show. His 'Untitled', 2008, is on the wall

    Photo © Philipp Ebeling

  • Asked how this space will compare with those of other major collectors, such as Charles Saatchi, Anita Zabludowicz with her Chalk Farm space, and David Roberts with his nearby Art Foundation in Camden, Cohen is clear that the Dairy is not just about showing his own collection. “It’s to do something for the artists. We want to enrich our relationship with the artists, galleries, curators, institutions and other collectors, as well as the public.”

    The Dairy will therefore be a platform for showing “emerging and established artists together with artists from the past who we feel should be reconsidered,” says Cohen. “And we want it to be a place where people hang out, a place for conversation.” They will also create an educational programme for schools and colleges. Cohen has shown his collection to the public since 2007 at his art space near Wolverhampton, Initial Access, but concedes “in between openings, the traffic was negligible”. The Bloomsbury location of the Dairy, by contrast, “is accessible, right in the heart of London”. It offers high-ceilinged industrial spaces, courtyards and quirky walk-in refrigeration rooms which will be converted into artists’ project spaces. Frahm adds, “In time we plan to expand to include a media space, two sculpture yards, and a shop.”

    The two share many collecting interests, which Frahm characterises as broadly international, while Cohen says his current focus is on Urs Fischer and Ugo Rondinone, both New York-based Swiss artists, and the Berlin-based French multi-media artist Cyprien Gaillard. The Dairy’s first exhibition – there will be three a year – shows John Armleder, another Swiss artist whose work both he and Cohen have been collecting for many years. “He has been around since the late 1960s, working between furniture, fashion and art installation,” says Frahm. Associated with the Fluxus movement, with its emphasis on collaboration and performance, Frahm adds, “Armleder influenced more than one generation of artists, including Anselm Reyle, Jorge Pardo, Tobias Rehberger and Liam Gillick, to name a few who have worked on blurring the line between art, display, commercial devices and common objects.”

    Armleder has been invited to take over the entire space, creating “a newly designed installation of works from our collections, the reconstruction of previous works, new commissions, and film, music and video that have been rarely or never shown”, says Cohen. Altogether the show is an invitation to enter “a world of glitter and wall paintings, flower sculptures, movies, scaffolding, neon lights, performances, surfboards, disco balls, Japanese garbage, nylon tassels…” An apotheosis of interior decoration, perhaps. It will set the tone but by no means establish a formula. For as they both emphasise, theirs is a project that will “evolve and create an identity as it goes along.”

  • The Dairy opens 25 April 2013.

    Emma Crichton-Miller is an arts journalist, writing for ‘Crafts’ magazine and the ‘Financial Times’.

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