Ever since Axolotl extravagantly threw open its doors in Edinburgh’s prestigious Dundas Street nearly two years ago it has provided an exuberant breath of fresh air to an art scene which had grown stale and more than a little up itself. By imbuing its events with a sense of fun-not that the art on display was ever frivolous or trite- proceedings were conducted without the sense of a bad smell on the top lip and broom up the rear end which was typical of the reception most galleries extended to those who dared to enter their premises. The positive atmosphere the gallery generated was, in no short part, due to the airy premises which made strong use of the light and space at their disposal but location was not alone in making Axolotl a success as other approaches and attitudes also have to be factored in.
The main catalyst for this new approach of making art more accessible lies with the gallery owner Sarah Wilson who, most days, can still be found meeting and greeting those who venture through her doors. At their legendary openings she could be sighted sashaying through the throng in vertiginous heels and chic ensemble- think Christina Hendricks as Mad Men’s Joan hurtled through the decades in a time machine stopping only to acquire a few select pieces of Vivienne Westwood- accompanied by a salacious cackle. I was therefore sad to hear that Axolotl was closing down though disappointment quickly turned to relief when it was established as simply a case of relocation rather than any permanent closure.
The reasons for the relocation are several but top of the list would be the fact that shortly before Xmas Wilson’s partner-business and personal- was diagnosed with terminal cancer so future plans concerning the business required a rethink even though Axolotl was still functioning as a successful entity even in the current economic climate. Never one to cool her high heels it transpires Wilson already has two venues in the frame, so to speak, as alternative premises for Axolotl to continue their work but details remain under wraps until finalised.
In accordance with her current circumstances Wilson curated the current works on display-many of them her own- with the proceeds going to Cancer Research. As well as all this upheaval she also has her own wedding to organise for mid February which due to the circumstances will be a small family orientated affair although I suspect a donation to Dame Westwood’s pension fund will be firmly included in the choice of wedding outfit.
As to Axolotl’s legacy over the last two years Wilson is effusive in her praise for many of the artists who have shown there. Personal favourites though include Australian Simon Pontin’s collection of strategically hung shed doors engrained with spices eliciting an exotic aroma throughout the gallery. Also in for a special mention was Allan Goodwillie and his Owl assemblage which Wilson, and her equally vibrant assistant Susie Lamb, confirmed was fun and allowed visitors to contribute. Likewise Camera Obscura provided a divertive and quirky alternative to traditional art methods whilst simultaneously proving to be highly popular. A personal favourite of mine was Gregor Laird’s ‘Carrion’ of last summer which offered an interesting take on the obsession with celebrity in our culture.
Usually exhibitions were preceded by opulent, glamorous openings where the drink flowed, connections were made and a hell of a lot of flirting went on. They were always early evening events which continued seamlessly onto the pub-and beyond- resembling parties more than the stuffy atmosphere and cheap wine in plastic cup affairs which usually accompany such events. It will probably take more than a change of venue for the party animal in Wilson to be tamed and a new venue merely means new opportunities in her upbeat and indefatigable mindset.
Whatever the future holds for Axolotl its legacy already assures it will be regarded with a positive attitude and a sense of difference which aims to blow the cobwebs of the stuffy art establishment away with style and élan.
Axolotl can be found at 35 Dundas Street Edinburgh EH3 6QQ
Opening hours are Tuesday- Saturday 11-4
Telephone -0131 557 1460