“I asked the vicar (yes, it’s a crypt underneath a proper church!) if I could clean the space, repaint it and organise a one-off exhibition – he said yes!”
AT: How did you start engaging with the art world and how/when did you decide it could become your profession?
MB: It was my first trip to Italy when I was 18 that I became really taken with art and from then on I was focused on working in the industry in some capacity. I really wasn’t particularly knowledgeable about art prior to that – not that I would describe myself as such now! – but it was the first time I really engaged with the visual culture of a place and found that you could experience something almost spiritual through the appreciation of the objects and images we came across. I came away feeling really inspired.
AL: I have always loved art since a very young age and secretly admired my older cousin who was an artist – I just wanted to be like her! After my BA in Fine Art, I realised that I didn’t want to pursue a career as an artist, but at the time I was still very naive about the wider art world. I moved to Paris to do an MA in Curating and the city opened my eyes, I finally knew I could be part of the industry in a huge variety ways. The MA and my many, many internships helped me define what I wanted to do.
AT: What convinced you opening your own space?
AL: I arrived in London in May 2016 after completing my MA in Curating at the Sorbonne in Paris that same year. I was meant to stay for 4 months in London to carry out an Erasmus internship with Supplement Gallery and Sunday Art Fair. Two months after I’d arrived, I discovered the space of the crypt through a friend and fell in love with it. I had already decided that I would stay in the city and discovering a space like this, full of potential, was the holy grail! So I asked the vicar (yes, it’s a crypt underneath a proper church!) if I could clean the space, repaint it and organise a one-off exhibition – he said yes! And now here we are, three and a half years later. I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity he gave me.
AT: What are the toughest and the most fulfilling aspects of running the space?
MB: The toughest must be the cleaning of the crypt – I don’t know how Anais did it before I joined her! The crypt is close to 200 years old; we have to deal with damp, a rapid accumulation of dust and all sorts of other things. It requires a lot of maintenance but DIY is quite fun. As for the most fulfilling aspect, it must be seeing an artist brimming with happiness at the end of a successful opening as we run off to the pub.
AL: The toughest.. well, as Maddie said, cleaning the space is definitely one of them! But I think what I find the most challenging is to juggle between jobs. Maddie and I have full-time jobs – the crypt is our side project – and I sometimes feel frustrated about not being able to spend more time working on exhibitions. I’d love to be able to spend weeks researching, going to the library, just being a full-time curator! However, I value my full-time job too and working for a large gallery is invaluable.
“Further Images”, Thomas Van Linge, 2018.
AT: Does the space have a specific and coherent thread passing through the exhibitions? How do you select the artists to collaborate with?
MB: In 2020, our exhibitions were planned in connection with the seasons; for example our show with Jure Kastelic that looked at crypto-currency and internet subcultures that opened in early February when it was still winter in the UK. The rest of our 2020 programme was meant to have similarly interesting yet subtle connections to the time of year. Of course, this was all before Covid-19 disrupted things! I should also say that integral to everything is how an artist will work in the crypt. The eccentric space is our USP and we are keen to work with artists who are challenged by the space and are able to take it into new directions. However, in mentioning this overarching coherence to the programme, our development of exhibitions is a really organic process. As Anais has mentioned, the crypt is our side gig so it provides us with an amazing opportunity to be creative, exploring the concepts that interest us – or are particularly poignant at the time – and seeking out the artists we admire in a flexible way that we wouldn’t be able to achieve in our day-to-day jobs.
AL: Like Maddie said, the crypt is the place where we’re having fun! We closely follow the emerging art scene and have a number of friends who are artists or curators; the crypt is the place where we bring people together. Luckily Maddie and I have similar tastes, but also different interests, which I find very enriching when organising shows together. She takes me towards new directions I wouldn’t have gone to before, and I feel that we complete each other.
AT: How do you intend the gallerist – artist relationship?vWhat is the first step you make and how do you relate with them?
We tend to have at least a basic idea of the concepts that we want to explore through our shows, along with the sentiment and aesthetic that we want to create, before approaching any artists. We then do studio visits and it is always our dialogue with artists that helps us to refine our ideas. This is when we see things really get interesting; unexpected connections tend to come out between different artists practices that then inform how the show ends up materialising. This is always such a joy and also makes us feel reassured in our earlier feelings about the various artists that would work well together!
AT: How important is ‘networking’ in your job?
MB: I have found the art world to be an incredibly generous place and after working with artists in a show, we pretty much always end up as friends. Indeed, both Anais and I have learned so much from our colleagues in our full-time jobs – we continue to be inspired by what our colleagues are doing across the art world and I think it is important to keep in touch with that. ‘Networking’ makes it sound contrived but we genuinely enjoy keeping up with people, seeing how colleagues in the industry are doing new things and how artists we have worked with are moving forward on their practice.
AL: To be honest, I’m not sure I’m very good at networking! I find it really hard to go to openings after an eight hour day at work, but I still try to make it to the shows I’m interested in and I always go to all the degree shows to meet new artists coming through.
“Always the Real Thing”, Miriam Austin, 2018.
AT: What is your relationship with a city like London? How do you characterise your choices compared to other spaces in the city?
AL: London is such an amazing city for art. It is full of artists, the art schools are all very high standard and produce talented graduates each year. London is also very international, more than half of my friends are from abroad, and despite what is said about Brexit, I find the city and its people very welcoming and open. There are so many opportunities here.
AT: Your space is based in a very particular, if not ambiguous, place. How do artists interact with a space like yours?
AL: The space of White Crypt is anything but a conventional gallery, which makes it amazing to work with, but also very challenging. When curating shows, we not only choose to exhibit artists we admire, but we also have to think about how their works will create dialogue with the history and physicality of the crypt. At first, I thought that artists would be scared to present their work in such a space but I soon realised they found it hugely fulfilling. It offers artists an opportunity to reconfigure the way they think about their practice by situating their work in this unique environment . Over the past few years, we’ve worked on solo presentations with artists and the results are just breathtaking – they develop a close relationship with the crypt and create immersive installations that reveal the different interests and special qualities of the space.
AT: What is the role of the digital tool in what you do?
AL: Social media is part of the art world and especially these days during the lockdown where it is impossible to see art in the flesh, we’ve realised how important it is to work on a digital level. Luckily, art is in large part visual, which makes it easier for our sector to promote what we are doing. That being said, there is nothing like seeing a show in person that engages all your senses. Digital will never replace that!
“Ripe Beings”, Lise Stoufflet and Shana Moulton, 2019.
AT: What do you think will be the role of the galleries, in the future?
AL: Young galleries and project spaces help to support and nurture young artistic practices. They can also help to create artistic communities and become spaces for discussion that help the artists develop their work. It is very important that there are spaces where artists are encouraged to take risks and experiment, to push their practices and explore their ideas and ambitions.
MB: It would be great for more informal gallery set ups to sprout up; spaces that host an exhibition just a few times a year perhaps and run by people who, like us, work full time in other jobs. I think it would help make art more accessible and make people see that you don’t need a vast, immaculate space to experience and enjoy great works. Indeed, with such pressure on arts institutions across the UK, it also feels important for us to make a small contribution and offer a space and our time to young artists.
AT: Next projects on site?
MB: Covid-19 has put the brakes on the exhibitions we had planned for now. We ought to have had a group show in April, followed by a solo presentation on view at the moment and we are looking to reschedule these for the autumn. The line up is going to be insane! We are so excited. To make up for the lack of a physical show, we have launched an online project, ‘A Celebration of Artists’, that shines a spotlight on artists who have featured in past exhibitions in the space. We also have our ‘Postcard Project’ offering an opportunity for people to have a small artwork in their home, without having to purchase an original. With both projects we just wanted to spread a bit of joy given everything going on in the world at the moment.
AT: If you had to give some advice to a youngster who wants to open a space, what would it be?
MB: If you get the chance to put on a show anywhere – do it! It could be your living room, a garage, perhaps a space you make accessible to visitors by appointment just for a weekend. You might get only ten people visiting but it is a start! You – and the artists you show – will all learn something that will set you up for the next step. Everyone has to begin somewhere.
AL: Like Maddie said, just do it! When you start, you don’t have much to lose. When I did the first show at the crypt, I thought “Oh well, no one knows me anyway, so if it’s a fail, people will just forget about it!” It’s important to have fun as you never know what comes out of it!
“Night”, Exhibition view, 2017.
White Crypt is a project space dedicated to working with emerging artists and young curators. Situated in the crypt of St Mark’s Church, Oval, London, it is run by Co-Directors Anais Lerendu and Madeleine Brown. The pair present both solo and group exhibitions - as well as performances - and are particularly attuned to working with artists who respond to the history and architecture of this unique space. White Crypt believes in the power of community as evidenced through the gathering of both UK-based and international artists and curators, and the desire to welcome those both within and outside of the art circle. Due to its location beneath a church in the heart of south London - and given the eccentric, unimposing and honest nature of the space - White Crypt has been able to develop a unique relationship with its immediate neighbourhood. Anaïs Lerendu opened the space in November 2016 and Madeleine Brown joined as Co-Director in June 2019.