South London Gallery’s newly opened Fire Station annexe, designed by 6a architects, has enabled the institution to expand its internationally acclaimed contemporary exhibitions, education and events programmes, furthering its reputation for bringing new work by established and lesser known artists to an area of London with a fascinating local history. Originally built in 1867, London’s oldest surviving purpose-built fire station was donated to the SLG by an anonymous benefactor in 2014. A year later, 6a architects won the contract to restore the derelict building and transform it into an inspiring new centre for contemporary art.

Photo: Johan Dehlin. Courtesy 6a architects.

6a’s Stephanie Macdonald said: “Over many years now the SLG and 6a have worked together on a gradually evolving ‘campus’ bringing together a variety of different buildings and outdoor spaces. There has been a consistent emphasis on developing the whole site, with external spaces being as integral to the artistic programmes and experience of visiting the SLG as the internal spaces. The gallery has literally spread out into the local area where it has been creating connections with residents since its inception.”

Ryan Gander, Dominae Illud Opus Populare, 2016 © Ryan Gander. Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery. Image Jack Hems.

6a first worked with the SLG when they were commissioned to refurbish a derelict Victorian house neighbouring the gallery. The extension, which opened to the public in June 2010, doubled the size of the SLG through the creation of additional gallery spaces, a flat for a programme of artist residencies, a café, the Clore education studio at the rear of the site, and the Fox Garden. More recently, 6a worked with the SLG and artist Gabriel Orozco to create the Orozco Garden, transforming a largely inaccessible paved area of land at the back of the gallery’s main building into a unique sculptural work.

Photo: Johan Dehlin. Courtesy 6a architects.

The architectural practice’s designs for the Fire Station retain the character of the Grade II listed building, which originally provided accommodation for the fire brigade officers and their families, and housed appliances, equipment and horses. They have maintained the original layout of the rooms as far as possible to retain the sense of a big house with civic intentions, adjusting openings and circulation to bring views and light through the new spaces. The light-filled development includes new exhibition galleries, an archive, communal kitchen, education space and artist’s studios. Arranged over four floors, the building provides 425 square metres of public space, doubling the SLG’s footprint. It includes restoration of the historic façade, the creation of a dramatic new entrance hall and staircase.

Photo: Johan Dehlin. Courtesy 6a architects.

To celebrate the opening of the SLG’s new space, the inaugural exhibition KNOCK KNOCK, curated by SLG Director, Margot Heller, with artist Ryan Gander, brings works by internationally established figures such as Maurizio Cattelan, Sarah Lucas and Ugo Rondinone into dialogue with newly-commissioned and existing works by younger practitioners such as Danielle Dean, Hardeep Pandhal and Simeon Barclay. At a time of much upheaval and unease in the world, KNOCK KNOCK aims to raise a smile at a particularly joyous moment in the history of the SLG, but also to explore what makes us laugh in art and why.


KNOCK KNOCK: Humour in Contemporary Art at South London Gallery | 22 September – 18 November 2018


Feature image: Lynn Hershman Leeson, Seduction, 1985 | Image copyright Lynn Hershman Leeson, courtesy of the artist and Bridget Donahue, NYC

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