Design & Decoration S04 ep10 : James Mayor, Mayor Gallery, [London]
Interview with James Mayor
Dada, Surrealism and International Pop-Art The Mayor Gallery, was the first Gallery to open its doors in Cork Street. Founded by Fred Mayor (1903-1973) in 1925. Many artists exhibited for the first time in England at the Mayor Gallery and they included, amongst others, Bacon, Calder, Ernst, Klee, Masson, Miro and Paolozzi. The Mayor Gallery was also the centre of UNIT ONE, a group that included Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, Edward Burra and others. James Mayor, Fred´s son, took over the Gallery in 1973 since then the Mayor Gallery has shown the work of many leading American artists. They include: Hesse, Lichtenstein, Martin, Oldenburg, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, Ryman, Twombly, Warhol and Wesselmann. The Gallery continues to show the works of leading American Pop artists, but remains London's foremost Gallery for Dada and Surrealism.
It was originally founded by my father in 1925. He was the first person to show pastels, clay,
murals. He died in early 73’ so I’ve been running it since 72’ for nearly forty years
He went back and forth to Paris a lot he worked a lot with Carmine’s brother who came to
England in the early 30’s and then he was involved with Alfred Fleshtine. There was a lot more
comeradery then than there is now..unfortunately money is the new passion.
He was the first gallery onto Cork Street then Rex Nan Kivell of the Redfern Gallery. The London
Gallery was there, Peggy Guggenheim had her gallery in London on the same Cork Street. So it
was a sort of mecca for contemporary art. The would shuffle the paintings between each other
to pretend they were doing business
Mother thought I’d get a job at a bank. I realized banking was not for me, I was not designed to
sit behind a desk and have a 9 to 5 job. So I then went to Paris for a few months I worked for
Cam Violet then I went to New York to work for Claris Pauls then in 1969 I had a job in Sothebys
in London which I really didn’t enjoy so I asked Peter Wilson if I could be transferred to New
York. So from the end of 69’ 71’ and 72’ at the age of 21 I started the contemporary auctions.
Calvin Klein in the New Yorker called me the youngest art expert in , dot dot dot, the world.
IN New York my friends are kind of being Warholics and Stein and people like that and there
was nobody handling them and so I think we gave them the first commercial exhibition in
England probably for Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Chamberlin, Twombley, Eva Hesse, Agnis
Martin in Europe of the Impala part of 1974. Had about 6 shows of Trumley, didn’t sell a single
one in England. Maybe wanted the stuff.
People weren’t superstars you know, they actually troughed you like their work and it was sort
of…everybody sort of thinks of him as this freak and I remember you know you go to a party
Andy [Warhol] would be sitting in a corner with his camera and he’d beckon you to come over
and he said who are all these freaks, tell me who are they? And then I took him to Kuwait once
because I had a girlfriend who was on the arts council of Kuwait and she said "oh bring an
artist" so I said I’d bring Warhol and there was one Sheik there and we’re having lunch with
him and he said “you brought me Andy now bring me now bring me Salvador [Dali] , bring me
When I was in New York you really couldn’t meet anybody you wanted. I remember the first
time when I was there in 68’ working for pals a friend of a friend of mine said ‘oh if you’re going
to Washington go and look up my grandmother, she’d love to meet you and have tea.’ So I
went, poor little thing and the grandmother who was then in her 90’s was Alice Roosevelt
Longworth who was Ted Roosevelt’s daughter and she was like the queen mother or really the
queen of Washington. The idea that a 19 year old could just call up and say "oh I’m a friend of a
friend of your granddaughter’s, ‘oh sure I know who you are you can come around and have
tea with us.
I’d always had an interest in surrealism when people asked me what I’d deal in and I would say
sort of from 1920 to 1970 so that’s dada and surrealism through the 60’s pop and minimal and
zero and things like that. The sort of Californian assemblages really is the neo dada so it makes
perfect sense. The majority of our clients are 60+, it’s something they understand too, it sort of
relates to their yesteryear.
We prefer to own the work. We’ll think about one or two artists and start discreetly buying
them up. We’d pay the people immediately and so when people have a need they can
discreetly come and knock on our door
Basically we’re selling things in the sort of 25,000 so 500,000
So the seasons here is buyer this is realistic and something they can relate to. I think it’s much
better to buy something that relates to you. You know you can understand why our
grandparents bought impressionists.
With all artists’ fashion it sometimes go round museum sometimes it isn’t. There’s this man
who died who had all these Baroque paintings. Then, they were worth nothing you know.
They are now billions of pounds but that was fashion. It was out of fashion. Fifty years ago you
could buy the most important pre Raphaelite for a hundred pounds. It was completely out of
I often say that modern art scans Picasso’s life 1881 to 1973 so that starts with post
impressionism and goes through pop art, color field, minimal, land art, conceptual art, all these
things and then after that you have postmodern.
I always say that art is one of the worst investments you can buy. There are only two criteria
when you buy a painting. First is you got to like it and the 2nd is you got to be able to afford it.
You can intellectualize it as long as you want but I think it comes from the heart.
OFFICIAL WEBSITE: James Mayor, Mayor Gallery, London