James Birch (curator)
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 (artist) in Moscow, in the then USSR, in 1988 and Gilbert & George in Moscow in 1990 and Beijing and Shanghai in 1993.
Life and career
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.
In 1983 he opened his first gallery James Birch Fine Art on the King's Road, London, where he specialized in the work of British surrealists such as John Banting, Eileen Agar, Conroy Maddox and Grace Pailthorpe, and the Symbolist and magician Austin Osman Spare.
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. 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.
Located in Dean Street, Birch and Conran was the first art gallery in Soho. Birch and Conran's inaugural show was British Pop Art, a seminal exhibition which re-invigorated interest in the work of British Pop Artists such as Sir Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, Colin Self, Richard Smith, Clive Barker, Peter Phillips, Gerald Laing, David Hockney and Allen Jones. Birch's interest in Pop Art stems from childhood visits to the Tate gallery. Birch and Conran Fine Art was forced to close in 1990 when, in line with Soho's increasing gentrification, its landlord Paul Raymond (publisher) sharply increased the rent.
Birch then concentrated on exhibiting Gilbert & George in Moscow in 1990 and Beijing in 1993. The broadcaster and author Daniel Farson wrote the book With Gilbert & George in Moscow (Bloomsbury, 1991) about the Moscow exhibition. Farson also recounted the Francis Bacon 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.
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'.
2014 saw Birch realise a long-held ambition when Walter the Pigeon, the enchanting, eerily evocative fairy-tale about a London pigeon's unrequited love for a beautiful French girl that he wrote as a teenager, was published by Trolley Books. Illustrated by the artist Raisa Veikkola, the book was immediately described by the author and leading counterculture writer Barry Miles as "a poignant reminder of one’s childhood and youth, strangely touching".
James Birch is currently working on various art projects in association with The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea.
Notable exhibitions curated by James Birch outside his own galleries
- A Salute to British Surrealism (Colchester and Hull City Museums, 1985)
- Francis Bacon retrospective (The Central House of Artists, Moscow, USSR, 1988)
- Gilbert and George (Beijing and Shanghai Museums, People's Republic of China, 1993)
- Sluice Gates of the Mind - the collaborative work of Pailthorpe and Mednikoff (Leeds City Art Gallery, 1998)
- Genesis P-Orridge (Kunsthalle Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, 2004)
- Christine Keeler: My Life in Pictures (The Mayor Gallery, London 2010)
- Dennis Wirth-Miller (The Minories, Colchester, 2011)
- Brigitte Bardot: Unseen London 1968. Photographs by Ray Bellisario. (Black & Blue, London 2014)
- Elena Khudiakova: Soviet Consumerism (Rossotrudnichestvo Gallery, 2014)
- Nina Fowler: Works (Dadiani Fine Art, London, 2014)
- Jonathan Cooper, "Bacon's extraordinary legacy," London Evening Standard, March 7, 2003
- Andrew Solomon, "Their Irony, Humor (and Art) Can Save China," New York Times, December 19, 1993
- Grayson Perry, "Letting it all hang out: my life as a naked artist," The Times, June 20, 2007
- Grayson Perry Artist's Profile, Saatchi Gallery
- Alexis Parr, "Hunt for dead author Dan Farson's life of the artists," The Independent, January 11 1998
- Colin Gleadell, "Artists' colony," The Telegraph, October 19, 2001
- Joe La Placa, "London Calling," artnet, 2003
- Carla Borel, July 2011
- Mark Brown, "Unseen Christine Keeler pictures to go on show," The Guardian, July 21, 2010