South London Gallery
We're heading over the river to the South London Gallery (SLG) for June’s bookshop of month. Just a stone’s throw away from a number of the capital’s exciting new galleries, the SLG is located in an art-lover’s paradise. We chatted to book buyers Phoebe and Jack about their prime location, their eclectic range of books and what the future has in store…
1. Situated between Camberwell and Peckham, the South London Gallery is at the centre of a booming cultural scene. What’s it like to run a bookshop here?
A lot of fun! Peckham and Camberwell have changed considerably in the last few years, but the community is stronger than ever and there are some really important local groups ready to challenge and question any proposed developments. There are a number of fantastic art galleries around us now, which means you can set aside a whole afternoon to tour around, or join in on a guided tour with SLAM on the last Friday of every month. As well as Assembly Point, Arcadia Missa and Hannah Barry Gallery, we’re very excited about The Bower, which will be opening just round the corner from us, very soon!
2. The gallery regularly hosts exhibitions of outstanding contemporary art. Can you tell us how the bookshop supports such events?
Apart from making our own selection of titles that we feel would be relevant to each show, we invite artists to supply us with a list of their favourite books, or books that they feel would enrich an understanding of their work. These aren’t necessarily books about them, or even art related. On one occasion this meant that we ordered in the entire Semiotext(e) back catalogue (for Michael Dean), and on another, the contemporary fiction writers Mira Mattar, Natasha Soobramanien and Luke Williams were invited to take up an informal residency in Heman Chong’s exhibition. Their publications became regulars on our shelves.
It’s quite common that a book chosen for an exhibition will become a firm favourite in the shop beyond the duration of the show. Perhaps the broad selection of theory, literature and beyond that we ordered in for The Place is Here, a group exhibition of Black British artists of the 1980s, has made the greatest impact to our shelves, with American author, feminist and activist bell hooks regularly topping our bestseller list.
3. As a gallery bookshop, do you find that most of your visitors are looking for art books or are your other titles just as popular?
Contemporary art is a broad church when it comes to media, influences and inspiration, so our bookshop is a reflection of that. Being situated between two art schools (Goldsmith’s and Camberwell College of Art) means that a lot of students visit us, and they are generally looking for left-field ideas, or for unusual publications, as much as books about the visual arts. We’ve found that poetry, theory and criticism and some of our small-press books are just as popular (if not more!) than our books on art. We also want to cater to the local community, who use the gallery in ways that go beyond an afternoon at an exhibition (such as participating in Education related projects – Art Block etc – using the café, and attending film screenings and performances that cover music and dance). This means we work hard to maintain an interesting children’s section, albeit with an eye firmly on top-class illustration and design.
4. Tell us about your Publisher’s Table initiative. Why is this so important to the SLG shop?
This gives us a chance to showcase the publishers that make wonderful publications of a more unusual variety. Books that aren’t always easily understood when lost in a sea of other publications! Sometimes it really helps to put a selection together, so that customers can get a proper survey of what the publisher is about.
5. And finally, do you have any exciting plans for the shop that you’d like to share with us?
We’re currently in the process of designing a second shop that will occupy the ground floor of our brand new building at 82 Peckham Rd. The building is one of the earliest surviving purpose-built fire stations constructed after the formation of London’s Metropolitan Fire Brigade in 1866 and was gifted to us in 2015 after many years of disuse. As well as an opportunity to sell more lovely books in a new location, the building will also house several new gallery spaces, an archive room, open kitchen, an education space and an artist studio. The second site will open up on the 20th September. More information can be found on our website.