Just over 25,000 visitors attended the 24th edition of the London Art Fair at Islington’s Business Design Centre, which ran over five days this month. Some will be surprised that the London Art Fair is the UK’s largest and longest running fair of contemporary art focused on London galleries.
The London Art Fair has a more approachable, accessible, and welcoming feel, compared with other fairs in the city. Visiting it is a bit like seeing your school teachers in mufti – without the comfort of their usual surrounding North, South, East or West, and stripped of the guise of curatorial framework, there is a measure of equality that makes the fair much less intimidating to non-commercial visitors too.
Among the stands favourited by the media were T E N D E R P I X E L, whose drawing robot appeared on ITN and Channel 4 News, and photographer Maisie Broadhead, whose work will be shown in the National Gallery later this year. This begins to give a sense of the gamut of art on display side by side at the London Art Fair – it’s a chance to get an insight into the contrast and diversity of the contemporary commercial scene, and, of course, to see who is buying and selling.
Favourites among the buyers were artists such as Terry Frost and John Hoyland, selling paintings in the region of £40,000 each, and Purdy Hicks, selling work by a range of artists, such as photographs by Tom Hunter.
Among the hippest galleries were Pertwee, Anderson & Gold, who had managed to create an ominous-looking living room in their allotted stand, adjacent to Damien Hirst’s outlet, Other Critieria, presenting his ubiquitous spot prints, and sculptural work by fellow YBA Sarah Lucas; in this corner too was Charlie Smith London, who presented among others John Stark, who appeared in the Saatchi Gallery and Channel 4’s "New Sensations and the Future Can Wait".
The new "project space" upstairs, offering a platform to younger galleries and projects, with a programme of talks and screenings that has by now become de rigeur at such events, was another of the fair’s salient successes: the Catlin Guide, which launched its gorgeous new tome there. Justin Hammond, curator and director of both the Guide and the Catlin Prize which holds its annual awards party and exhibition in May, meticulously selects forty art graduates, profiling their work and offering a personal insight into their studios and practice. It’s an aspirational and portentous peek into the future of UK art, and an apt juxtaposition to the galleries selling work downstairs.
Fairs are not for everyone – they’re generally hard to digest, confusing, and hard work – but they are an essential part of the commercial market, and a chance to look at art more analytically. The London Art Fair’s strength is that it remains rooted in London Art – and, as its director Jonathan Burton, remarked, it will remain so.
All images courtesy The London Art Fair