Posh Contemporary Art Gallery Blain Southern Is Closing Its Doors Amid Financial Troubles

The news comes as multiple artists say they are working to reclaim art or money from the gallery.

Graham Southern and Harry Blain. Photo by Nick Harvey/WireImage.

Blain Southern, a contemporary art gallery with locations in London, Berlin, and New York, is closing its doors amid ongoing financial troubles. The business had been under great strain following an exodus of artists and staff, according to five sources familiar with the matter. At least four artists represented or recently represented by the gallery are now working to retrieve artworks or overdue payments, Artnet News has learned. 

The gallery’s founders Graham Southern and Harry Blain, longtime fixtures on the London art scene, split up last fall, with Blain remaining at the helm of the business. Blain confirmed that he plans to close the gallery and is working to return inventory to its owners.

“It was an honor to collaborate with so many talented artists and build an exhibition program that reflected and celebrated the breadth of contemporary art practice worldwide,” Blain said in a statement. “Despite the support of dedicated gallery staff, I deeply regret that I have been unable to secure the gallery’s future long term.”

There had been clear signs of trouble: Five artists had left the gallery since Southern split with Blain this fall. They include British artist Mat Collishaw, who announced his departure over social media yesterday; British painter Rachel Howard, who withdrew from the program in early January; and Berlin-based Henning Strassburger, who departed in December. Artistic duo Jake & Dinos Chapman and painter Sean Scully both cut ties with the gallery in November. (Scully previously confirmed he had a dispute with the gallery but said it was “unconnected to the dispute between the partners.”)

Blain Southern had also seen a series of high-profile staff departures in recent months. Charles Saumarez-Smith, the former Royal Academy director whose 2018 hire was widely seen as a coup, stepped down as senior director in December. Craig Burnett, Blain Southern’s director of exhibitions, left in November. Neither immediately responded to a request for comment.

Two sources told Artnet News that the gallery recently asked artists to fund the return of their own works from its storage facilities, a highly unusual request. In an email seen by Artnet News, the gallery says it doesn’t have funds to cover shipments due to its “difficult financial position.” (“I am aware this is not how one would regularly deal with this but I am afraid we don’t have that many other options at this stage,” a gallery staff member wrote.)

One artist who paid for the return of unsold work says they remain in the dark about the status of other works held by the gallery and has not received payment for sold works since June. “They are organizing the closing of the gallery on the backs of their artists,” the artist said.

When Southern’s exit from the gallery first came to light last autumn, a spokesman said the business would undergo a restructuring and announce additional programming in the coming weeks. Blain said in a statement at the time that the gallery remained “fully committed to its arts, program, and three spaces.” 

The two London-based art dealers co-founded their eponymous gallery in London back in 2010, some years after selling their former art-dealing business, Haunch of Venison, to Christie’s in 2007. They made headlines when they opened their gallery and took a number of big-name artists with them, including Collishaw and Bill Viola.

Companies House filings shed some light on the gallery’s still-murky financial situation. As of 2015, Blain’s company BBB Capital Investments owned 90 percent of the business, while Southern owned 10 percent. The business took out a loan from HSBC in July 2019. It also reported £2.2 million in profit after tax in 2018, down from £2.8 million in 2017.

Javier Pes contributed reporting.

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