LAST year a hedge fund manager bought a painting from a casino owner for £100 million.

That seems to summarise nicely what art has become: corrupted by very large sums of money. People whose very trade is money exchange goods for inflated prices through a global confidence trick. Art has become an investment commodity, performing better than property, and offering more security than money itself.

Of course, this is a world remote from the jobbing artist. We must complain how difficult it is to sell a £500 painting to a public used to the cheap availability of famous reproductions.

But we can hope. Just around the next corner, maybe, is the dealer-magician who will cast his wand on our work and transform our prices, and reputation.

Before we condemn the entire network of commercial dealers and private galleries, it’s fair to examine what they do for us. You wouldn’t expect a restaurant to give out free food to hungry passers-by, but this is effectively what many private galleries do.

The new Hauser & Wirth gallery at Bruton in Somerset has caused a lot of excitement outside London, and should serve as a reminder that we have a similar organisation at Roche Court.

The New Art Centre at East Winterslow is primarily a sculpture park but often shows 2D work in its galleries, currently the paintings of Vicken Parsons.

It offers expensive works of art for sale to people with expensive tastes, so what do I mean when I ask what the New Art Centre does for us?

First, it offers access to beautiful gardens with views over rolling parkland.

Second, around 70 sculptures are displayed around the grounds, work by major artists including Anthony Caro, Peter Randall-Page, Richard Long and Phyllida Barlow.

Third, two interior galleries show a rolling programme of guest exhibitions. Fourth, it’s open every day of the week. Fifth, it’s absolutely free at all times. What is there not to like?

And that’s not all.

Through the Roche Court Educational Trust school groups are given guided tours; and the Trust is behind the articulation prize to encourage young people to become fluent in art criticism.

To sum up, what began as a commercial gallery in London in 1958 and moved here in 1994 is giving a great deal of value.

I like very much the small paintings and sculptures by Vicken Parsons now on show. The sculptures appear almost casually constructed which belies, I think, careful planning and preparation of materials.

When you visit, make sure you also see inside the artist’s house, as much for the interior as the art displayed.



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