Tag Archives: London Art Fair

Art for Bank Workers

Tucked away in a soulless building in Islington’s Upper Street is the unexceptionally named Business Design Centre – home to the 21st London Art Fair.
Look on it as the Ideal Home Show for the art world.

Not as slick or suave as Frieze, nor as flea market as the Affordable Art Fair.

Of all the art fairs that vie for Londoners’ attention, this one is an unashamed melting pot of 112 galleries from Europe and the UK showing (okay, selling) 20th and 21st century art from the likes of Marc Chagall and LS Lowry to Banksy’s Bristol nemesis, Nick Walker.

The work ranges from £20 “high-quality, editioned video art” to a Henry Moore for a cool one million pounds – although when you start talking figures that sound like mortgages, the ticket on the label always reads “price on application”.

Jonathan Burton, London Art Fair’s director, insists that the art market is still relevant despite a looming recession. He takes the phrase “art fair” quite literally.

“Art is not for a wealthy elite. The reason we have such a mix of galleries, styles and projects is to prove you don’t have to spend a fortune to own something unique,” he says.

He also suggests that a downturn could be the best time to start collecting: “Galleries are more flexible with price, something they wouldn’t have been a year ago.”

The heaviness of economic uncertainty seems to waft away as the serious collectors stream in for the buyers’ preview – an art world convention or condescension depending on which end of the black you’re in. The conversation drifts from “hmm” to bandying numbers while omitting the words “thousand” or “million”.

Polite nodding-a-plenty coupled with saccharine smiles and power-handshakes.

But what of the art? Modern masters and the contemporary canon. Barbara Hepworth, Patrick Heron, Sir Peter Blake for the former. Gavin Turk, Jeremy Deller, Rob and Nick Carter for the latter.

Art that appeals to buyers who work for banks.

Of this, Burton is unashamed: “City buyers are very important to us. They’re our best repeat customers.”

The art school idea of using creativity to challenge and reflect the world you experience goes straight out the window here. That is, until you ascend a few staircases, meander through a few corridors and ascend a final set of stairs to Gerry Judah’s work.

Gerry’s work stabs you. Destroyed cityscapes turned on their side on paper and canvas – meticulously modeled down to inner stairwells and water-tanks.

A passing electrician commented “It’s Gaza, innit?” Or anywhere wrecked by man or nature.

Despite the obvious sculptural effect that harks to his Hollywood set design days, Judah calls these paintings.

“They’re directly influenced by war zones from the Middle East to eastern Europe. I’m Jewish and my family comes from Baghdad. I set out to address a feeling, not an issue – I don’t like leading people by the nose. It’s political with a small ‘p’.”

Your eye, your body, your mind – all wander through the monochrome of Judah’s deliberate destopia. Repulsed at the grotesque yet magnetized by the beauty of detail.

After spending the best part of two hours despairing that the word ‘art’ had gathered the unwelcome suffix ‘market’, seeing the fragile power of Judah’s work renewed a sense that art exists beyond art’s sake.

:: The 21st London Art Fair is open to the public until 18 January 2009 at the Business Design Centre, Upper Street, Islington, London.

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This article was first published on Sky News Online on 14 January 2009. All rights reserved.

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Bring Your Mind (Open Your Wallet)

From LS Lowry’s bleak northern landscapes to pieces by Pete Doherty featuring syringes, crack spoons and his own blood, the London Art Fair feels like an upmarket boot sale for 20th Century art.

It’s white paint and money-scented floors can feel intimidating, especially if this is your first jump into the polo-necked world of modern art.

Go along and you will see everything from non-descript paintings of fruit to a dizzying 3D piece by Patrick Hughes of Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark that seems to move as you walk past it.

Yes, you will hear plummy voices from people called Camilla but you will also feel colours from the slums of Brazil and the alleys of the East End.

There’s a non-too-subtle money side of things – everything here is for sale.

That, as well as the myriad of arty types swanning through corridors can be off-putting – butthat commercialism is also the saving grace.

What’s most striking is the sheer volume of work on show.

Unlike the Frieze Art Fair, there’s nothing worthy here … nothing hits you over the head with the pretensions of conceptual art.

Nothing makes you feel stupid. If you don’t like it, you can move on and find something you do like.

The popularity of modern art means you probably know more about it than you give yourself credit for.

Should you go? Should you care? London Art Fair’s director Jonathan Burton says: “You don’t have to buy, you can just browse and soak it all in.

“Since the Fair’s been around for twenty years, we have a very good idea of what people will like to see.

“We have over a hundred galleries and try to offer something for the experienced collector and someone who’s never been to a gallery in their life.”

I overheard someone say: “Art is like sex, if you fancy it you want to grab it.”

Either way, you don’t have to have an open wallet. Just an open mind.

:: The London Art Fair is from 16-20 January at the Business Design Centre, Islington.

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This article was originally published on Sky News Online on 15 January 2008. All rights reserved.

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