I recently managed to tick off another entry on my Must-See List: Kallos Gallery in London.
Kallos is a commercial gallery of antiquities – mostly Greek, some Egyptian and Roman. In other words, it’s a shop: a very remarkable antique shop which could only exist in a city that attracts extremely wealthy clients.
Tucked away on a little street in Mayfair, just round the corner from Berkeley Square (no nightingales: I checked), everything about it screams exclusivity, from the huge windows showcasing just a single item to the doorman waiting to unlock the door for you. It’s the sort of place which could make a person very conscious of the hole in her sock.
The gallery itself has few glass cases: items are mostly on pedestals or sideboards. When I went in, it took me a while to realise that this is one of the significant differences in atmosphere between Kallos and a museum. Museums have to be robust: items need to be protected from marauding small children, among other hazards. I couldn’t imagine taking a small child (particularly my small child) into Kallos – I was nervous enough just looking around myself.
The absence of glass makes a psychological difference: it makes the objects feel obtainable, within reach. Of course, for most of us they aren’t. A lot of the objects are ‘price on request’ but the prices I did see ranged from £12,000 to £140,000. To a cash-strapped traveller with a grand total of £2.50 in her purse (my emergency biscuit budget), it felt like another world.
And yet… while this is clearly a place which caters to the elite of the collecting world, it’s also something warmer. The staff are friendly and smiling, and not above making a nice cup of tea for a total stranger. And there’s a room in the basement full of old friends: Kennedy, Liddell and Scott, the OLD, an entire wall of Loebs to drool over, and more Greek and Roman art books than you’ll find in the average academic library. A classicist could be happy there for a very long time. The best part is that it isn’t a tidy room: it’s a working study full of all the usual work-in-progress clutter, as well as the odd treasure like a bust of Hadrian. It feels like home.
The beautiful things of Kallos may seem out of the reach of ordinary mortals: but because the staff work so closely with their clients, they’ve mastered the art of giving people what they want. Even your Intrepid Reporter was not immune. My personal weakness turned out to be their line of genuine Roman intaglios reworked into wearable jewellery – which could be mine for a measly three or four thousand pounds. I’m now redirecting my biscuit budget to a Roman intaglio savings pot…
When I visited, the staff were preparing to fly out, in relays, to New York for the prestigious Tefaf art show. Increasingly Kallos is taking its show on the road to reach the big international audiences, and its reputation is on the rise as a result. But its success has not changed its ethos of openness. Kallos has always opened its doors to school groups, providing educational experiences which would otherwise be far out of the reach of most kids, and has also hosted events for Classics For All.
I asked OU MA student David Hogg about his visits to Kallos as a teacher:
I have taken 2 groups of pupils to the Kallos Gallery; one was a Latin group and the other was my whole English class. Both trips were organised for different reasons, but both groups had an amazing experience at the incredibly generous and accommodating gallery.
My first trip was a small Latin group (about 10 students – we did this trip twice). The students were in Year 9 and I wanted to organise a unique experience that might persuade students to consider Latin as a GCSE option. The Gallery gave us a guided tour, which in this intimate setting is a truly unique experience. 3,000-year-old works of arts and crafts are displayed in a beautiful way in the open – there are no glass cases here. This gave the students the opportunity to view an object from 360 degrees and meant that no student was ‘at the back’, missing out on the details. The afternoon session was even more memorable as students were allowed to handle some solid gold jewellery (that was for sale at a very high price!). They were taught how to hold delicate objects and were then asked to guess the weight (with the nearest correct answer receiving a prize). The students loved this and they certainly left the gallery with the feeling that they had done something memorable and unique.
The second group that I took was my Year 9 English class (22 pupils). We had been studying WW1 war poetry and looking at Owen’s Dulce et decorum est compared to the Horace Ode where the line originates. I had then used an image of a hoplite helmet that was on display at the Kallos to act as a stimulus for a class poem (the idea being that the feelings and fears of a soldier going into a battle are universal). The class did such a great job with the poem that I said I would try to organise a reward for them. I explained what the class had done to the Kallos gallery, and the staff were very happy to accommodate us with a visit. This time the students were split into separate groups and some specific objects were examined and analysed closely. Students were then asked to create their own piece of drama inspired by the objects they had viewed, which they then performed in the gallery. Again, this was a unique experience for the students and demonstrated the cross-curricular potential of Classics.
On both visits the gallery generously provided a Greek/Mediterranean themed lunch (which was delicious) that students ate in the amazing office/library in the gallery – a room that contains an entire collection of Loebs. Pupils were also given a gift bag when they left. The trust that the gallery showed to the students and the maturity with which they treated them was another special aspect of this visit.
The students left with truly special memories.
I really need to organise another visit…
The educational openness of Kallos is aided by its expert staff – I learned a lot from Madeleine, the Gallery Director, about the challenges of researching antiquities for today’s market – but it comes originally from the gallery’s founder. Lorne, Baron Thyssen, is an Open University Classical Studies graduate and a donor to the OU department, and has put his name to – among other things – The Baron Thyssen Centre for the Study of Ancient Material Religion, a centre which prioritises open access in its events and online resources. Lorne is a collector himself, and moves in some very exalted collecting circles: but in creating Kallos he’s opened a window into the high-end antiquities market for schools, new collectors and even nosy provincial bloggers. Unlike many of its fancy Mayfair neighbours, Kallos doesn’t exclude.
So if you’re heading to London, check to see if Kallos is open (they’re closed at weekends and during big events). Don’t be put off by that closed door: just knock. Have a look around, ask some questions, tell the staff about your interests. They may just match you with the perfect object: or, like me, you might emerge with a plan to sell your child’s toys on eBay to fund your new obsession.
Cora Beth Knowles