30,694 people passed through the doors of the Business Design Centre in Islington last week to visit the 26th London Art Fair, the UK’s largest Fair for Modern British and contemporary art.
The British gallery and curator is interested in teaching the conservative public to progressively know and appreciate contemporary art, so they take the safe road. The fantastic blend of modern, safe art with contemporary on the edge of provocative, it sometimes felt a bit dull, a bit forced, but always a lesson to attend. The talks envisaged to cover topics such as market trends, the role of curator, art as an investment, whereas tours targeting entry level public to connoisseurs were meant to digest the tour highlights – Photography Highlights Tours with Jean Wainwright, Tour and Introduction to Art Projects with critic and curator Pryle Behman and maybe the most wanted Fair Highlights Tours led by Sotheby’s Institute of Art.
And there was much to digest. With more than 120 exhibiting galleries, the majority from UK, the three levels of the Business Design Centre were packed with modern and contemporary art on display for a medium buyer interested in investing a fixed amount of money. And since Melanie Gerlis, The Art Newspaper’s correspondent argues art could not be an investment in her newly launched book ‘Art As an Investment? A Survey of Comparative Assets’, it could only be about investment in personal satisfaction.
Prices and sales were visible and a post-fair press release marked the main sales announced by galleries. Sarah Monk, Director of London Art Fair commented: “We’ve enjoyed a rise in visitor figures over the past ten years, which reflects the growing interest in art, the importance of international visitors and recognition of the quality of work on offer. Galleries have reported strong sales at all price points, demonstrating an engaged and curious audience wanting to buy art, whether serious collectors or someone perhaps making their first acquisition.”
From PIANO NOBILE reported sales ranging from contemporary artists to significant pieces by Hepworth’s contemporaries such as William Crozier, John Golding, Terry Frost and Eduardo Paolozzi, priced up to quarter of a million pounds to a 1950s painting of Alan Davie RA sold in excess of £100,000 by Alan Wheatley, from a large triptych on paper by Francis Bacon hitting a high number to a number of works by Chiyu Uemae sold during the Fair such as Uemae’s Untitled, 1978-79, priced at around £70,000, sales of over £10,000 were actually the highlights, mostly modern art, showing that the British buyer is still on the safe side. Most of the sales were under £10,000, with photography and prints pushed to be the fair’s most marketable works.
Among the organizers initiatives to internationalize the fair was the new section of the fair, “Dialogues” a guest curated initiative by Adam Carr from MOSTYN Wales. He invited 4 galleries from Cologne, Warsaw, Cluj and Rome to prepare a joint space with galleries from UK. So, the 4 pairs (DREI, Cologne / Limoncello, London, Galleria Stereo, Warsaw / The Sunday Painter, London, SABOT, Romania / Maria Stenfors, London, Frutta, Rome / Seventeen, London ) proposed exhibitions about critical conversations around shared ideas or a common aesthetic. SABOT and Maria Stenfors space seemed the most prepared, with an underlining yet visible common discourse about artist – gallerist – production and space pointed by works of Alice Tomaselli and Lucie Fontaine (SABOT Gallery) and Lilah Fowler (Maria Stenfors Gallery). Though the question of the dialogue between gallery, curator and artist and their roles appears in many instances today, the section was probably too deep for the fair’s public, people passing through the four common framed spaces rarely engaged with the art works or gallerists.
Photography is the new source of survival for galleries and fairs. Berliner Liste just opened a new section dedicated to the genre in 2013, London Art Fair continues with Photo50 and a new photo fair is announced for 2015 to mark the date in the already busy London art events calendars. Photo50, a curated annual showcase of the most interesting and distinctive elements of photographic practices, was this year curated by Charlie Fellowes and Jeremy Epstein, Directors of Edel Assanti.
With the title ‘Immaterial Matter’, the 7 selected artists pushed the discourse about the distinction between the digital and the material to the limits. I have enjoyed some of Andrew Norman Wilson’s works from the series “ScanOps” documenting errors made by Google employees in their endeavour to digitize all the worlds books, Nikolai Howalt’s ‘Solar’ series in which he rendered in grayscale the photographs of the sun made available by NASA for download and thus alteration and Aram Bartholl’s work Graphic Arrays – two displays of blank sheets of photographic paper demonstrating the evolution of resolution displays. More good photography I saw in display in gallery spaces such as Edward Burtynsky and Simon Roberts at Flowers Gallery, new works by Tom Hunter at Purdy Hicks Gallery and Maisie Broadhead at Sarah Myerscough Fine Art.
If it weren’t for DUST show stopper picture framing two full nudes, I would have noticed that another bit of Romania was displayed on the small booth. The bit that you wouldn’t feel proud is there, that we, as citizens, mainly ignore when passing by Gara de Nord. JoostVandebrug spent 3 years with these homeless children and with the help of DUST Magazine and a crowdfunding campaign is able to tell their photographic story in a book ‘Cinci Lei’ soon to be launched in London. You just couldn’t ignore a booth with photos of homeless Romanian children in London.
What’s next? A survey of galleries prior to the Fair indicated optimism for the art market and the economy going into 2014, confidence which appears to be justified by sales reported after London Art Fair 2014 or the public attending the fair. What’s next? Only in London, fair after fair in a sequence that seems to say ‘no month without a fair’, Art 14 in February, Affordable Art Fair in March, The Other Art Fair in April, looking forward to Frieze London in October. If only more Romanian art practitioners would attend such events, they would learn much more than by spending the same amount of resources in living at home and seeing local exhibitions. Why don’t you come over?!
photos: Raluca Bogdan