India Rose James is the granddaughter of Soho icon and founder of the Raymond Revuebar Paul Raymond. She’s about to open a new contemporary art gallery on Greek Street called The Soho Revue. I had a chat with her about the gallery, as well as the future of Soho.
The Soho Revue opens this April. What do you want to achieve with this gallery?
We are bringing a contemporary art gallery to Soho with a focus on young artists. We hope also to appeal to people from different creative backgrounds through a series of multi-disciplinary talks, debates and art events. Primarily it’s a fine art gallery and we place emphasis on the visual arts. We will be releasing a newspaper/magazine which will amplify the arts discourse in London. It’s a non-profit 16 page, text-heavy kinda rag which has some really original articles so definitely worth a read.
What is the most exciting thing about the Soho Revue?
It’s a great opportunity to harness some of the creative energy in Soho and across the world. We know that there’s a lot of talent that isn’t being given a platform and we have a fantastic space in which we can curate bold exhibitions. Our team have a fantastic ability to rout out unique artists and contextualise their work with ingenuity and verve.
We’ll be opening with a group show and a short film starring Ruth Wilson. This should introduce the kind of exhibition format that we’ll be exploring. We will start to investigate individual artists more thoroughly in our second show. There’s my plug!
I can’t think of anything similar to the Soho Revue in the area. What is it about Soho that attracted you?
I think it’s important to represent artists in a creative area so that other professionals can enjoy what we’re offering. Soho is an incubator of ideas and our gallery wants to add to this discourse and learn from it. Soho is in my DNA, I have a close affinity to the area.
There’s, as I’m sure you’re aware, a lot of talk at the moment about Soho losing some of it’s character. Do you think that the Soho Revue could revive the area?
I think that’s Soho’s assuming a new identity and character. I hope that the gallery continues part of my grandfather’s legacy. The Raymond Revuebar was a prominent establishment and I think it’s important that we continue to make Soho an exciting area, as he undoubtedly did. The word revive suggests that it’s died in some way which I don’t believe to be true. I’ve never seen Soho’s streets busier than they are now!
Similarly, a lot of the younger Soho crowd have been priced out into places such as Dalston and Vauxhall. Do you think that contemporary art can get this crowd back in?
Yes (emphatically). There are, however, many challenges that galleries face. For one we live in a time where imagery has become totally pervasive, physically and digitally. Smartphone’s are pocket art galleries in many ways so galleries must bring a different experience. We really believe in the importance of the “gallery” as a public space and a space in which you can step out of the ritual of your day. Curating bravely is hugely important to us. We won’t be complacent with what we show and how we show it because we know how impotent contemporary galleries can be if the exhibitions are badly curated. We want the gallery to be a better alternative to sitting at home on your phone. Our central location helps this mission hugely.
As the granddaughter of Paul Raymond, do you think that Soho is losing the charm that it once had?
No. I think that there’s a lot of hyperbole surrounding gentrification in London. It’s an easy thing to protest against but a hard thing to prevent. Gentrification has become a dirty word but it brings a lot of good to an area. I try not to be nostalgic about the loss of some of those elements of Soho. I don’t want Soho to be really sterile but I think people are being highly inventive in finding new ways to keep it real which I respect. After all this is an entrepreneurial area, a lot of the character of Soho is thanks to a the demand for erotic entertainment (in the 60s, 70s and 80s) which is dwindling now. My grandfather was an entrepreneur so the area wouldn’t be what it is now without that spirit.
With your family history being in Soho, are you worried about the gentrification?
Again, there’s good gentrification and bad gentrification. I believe that preservation is important but has to be conducted in a case-by-case fashion. If something in an area isn’t working it’s only natural that it will change. I’d personally hate to live in a time-capsule because that’s not interesting to me. I don’t want Soho to be cast in resin so that it becomes some horrible amusement park, it needs to appeal and cater to the best personalities and entrepreneurs. I really believe that an area needs to provide opportunity to survive and be interesting and I think Soho is delivering this opportunity but times are tough and there’s no debating this! We need people from all income brackets and backgrounds to keep it dynamic. London’s feeling the pressure everywhere to keep the creative industries competitive and alive. People like Hannah Barry are my heroes in respect of this.
Finally, what’s next for you?
I’ll be taking a lead role in the development and re-opening of Madame Jojo’s, something I’m very excited about. Again it’s a project to continue the legacy of the club so that it keeps it’s edge. I have an interest in ensuring it keeps providing a great night on the tiles.
The Soho Revue opens in April. For more information, click here.