James Birch (curator)

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James Birch is an English art dealer, curator and gallery owner. He is best known for his innovative championing of British art, in particular for exhibiting Francis Bacon in Moscow, in the then USSR, in 1988, and Gilbert & George in Moscow in 1990, and in Beijing and Shanghai in 1993.[1][2][3]

Life and career[edit]

Birch was born in London and educated at the University of Aix-en-Provence, where he studied Art History, before training in the Old Master department of Christie's Fine Art in London where he later established the 1950s Rock & Roll department.[4][citation needed]

In 1983 he opened his first gallery, James Birch Fine Art, on the King's Road, London, where he specialised in the work of British surrealists such as John Banting, Eileen Agar, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe, the Symbolist and magician Austin Osman Spare and the artist and muse Luciana Martinez de la Rosa.[5][6][citation needed]

In 1984 Birch gave the Turner Prize winner Grayson Perry his first show, with a second quickly following in 1985. Perry was a founding member of the Neo-Naturist cabaret with Jennifer Binnie, who Birch had previously exhibited.[7][8] In 1986 Birch was photographed by Jane England, who included his portrait in her book on 1970s and 1980s subculture in London, Turn and Face the Strange.[9] James Birch Fine Art closed in 1986 and in 1987 Birch opened Birch and Conran Fine Art in Soho, London in association with Paul Conran.[10]

Birch then concentrated on exhibiting Gilbert & George in Moscow in 1990 and Beijing in 1993.[11] The broadcaster and author Daniel Farson wrote the book With Gilbert & George in Moscow (Bloomsbury, 1991) about the Moscow exhibition.[12] Farson also recounted the Francis Bacon (artist) exhibition in Moscow in his biography of Bacon, The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon (Pantheon, 1993).

In 1997 Birch returned to exhibiting in London when he opened the A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell, where he showed Keith Coventry, the photographer Dick Jewell, Genesis P-Orridge and two exhibitions by members of The Colony Room.[13][14]

In an article titled 'The Pimpernel Curator', the July 2011 issue of f22 magazine credited Birch with having created some of the 'most imaginative exhibitions of the last twenty years'.[15]

Away from curating, in 2010 Dewi Lewis published Birch's Babylon: Surreal Babies. The book presented Birch's collection of bizarre postcards of babies that were produced in the early 20th century and included a foreword by George Melly[16][17]

In 2017 Birch collaborated with the author and counterculture writer Barry Miles to produce a book and exhibition charting the history of the British underground press of the 1960s entitled The British Underground Press of the Sixties. The exhibition was held at Birch's own A22 Gallery in Clerkenwell, London.[18][19]

Birch regularly lends art works to art institutions and galleries for major and small scale exhibitions. Some of the recent ones include; Modern Couples Art, Intimacy and the Avant-garde at Barbican Art Gallery (10 Oct 2018—27 Jan 2019)[20], A Tale of Mother’s Bones: Grace Pailthorpe, Reuben Mednikoff and the Birth of Psychorealism at De La Warr Pavilion, (6 October 2018 – 20 January 2019)[21], and Camden Arts Centre, (12 April – 23 June 2019)[22], Dear Christine at Vane, Newcastle, (1-29 June, 2019) ArthouseSE1, London, (2-29 February 2020)[23]

Notable exhibitions[edit]

  • The British Underground Press of the Sixties with Barry Miles, A22 Gallery, 2018, London[24]
  • Gilbert and George (Beijing and Shanghai Museums, People's Republic of China, 1993)[25]
  • Christine Keeler: My Life in Pictures (The Mayor Gallery, London 2010)[26]
  • Elena Khudiakova: In Memoriam (Dadiani Fine Art, 2015)[27][28]


  1. ^ Jonathan Cooper, "Bacon's extraordinary legacy," London Evening Standard, 7 March 2003[permanent dead link]
  2. ^ Andrew Solomon, "Their Irony, Humor (and Art) Can Save China," New York Times, 19 December 1993
  3. ^ The Moscow Times, "New Bacon Exhibit to Come to Moscow in 2014", ' 'The Moscow Times' ', 28 August 2014
  4. ^ Mike Von Joel, "The Pimpernel Curator", ' 'f22' ', July 2011
  5. ^ Dick Jewell, "Luciana PV", Vimeo, March 2017
  6. ^ Mike Von Joel, "The Pimpernel Curator", f22, July 2011
  7. ^ Grayson Perry, "Letting it all hang out: my life as a naked artist," The Times, 20 June 2007
  8. ^ [1]
  9. ^ Ellie Howard, [2], ' 'Dazed' ', January 2017
  10. ^ Grayson Perry Artist's Profile, Saatchi Gallery
  11. ^ [3]
  12. ^ Alexis Parr, "Hunt for dead author Dan Farson's life of the artists," The Independent, 11 January 1998
  13. ^ Colin Gleadell, "Artists' colony," The Telegraph, 19 October 2001
  14. ^ Joe La Placa, "London Calling," artnet, 2003
  15. ^ Carla Borel, July 2011 Archived 26 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  16. ^ Rick Poynor, "Surrealism in the Pre-School Years", ' 'Design Observer' ', December 2010
  17. ^ Mark Sinclair, "Surrealist Babies", ' 'Creative Review' ', 14 December 2010
  18. ^ Kathryn Bromwich, "Covering the Counterculture", The Guardian, 23rd September 2017
  19. ^ Spectator Life, 'The 60s Underground Press Revisited', The Spectator, September 2017
  20. ^ https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2018/event/modern-couples-art-intimacy-and-the-avant-garde
  21. ^ https://www.dlwp.com/exhibition/tale-mothers-bones-grace-pailthorpe-reuben-mednikoff-birth-psychorealism/
  22. ^ https://www.camdenartscentre.org/whats-on/view/pmednikoff
  23. ^ http://vane.org.uk/exhibitions/dear-christine
  24. ^ https://britishundergroundpress.com
  25. ^ Solomon;, Andrew (19 December 1993). "Their Irony, Humor (and Art) Can Save China". The New York Times.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  26. ^ Brown, Mark; correspondent, arts (21 July 2010). "Unseen Christine Keeler pictures to go on show". The Guardian.
  27. ^ Orton, Karen (9 September 2015). "Elena Khudiakova's Glamorous Soviet Nostalgia". AnOther.
  28. ^ "In Memoriam: Elena Khudiakova". Wall Street International. 13 August 2015.

External links[edit]