“This year is the 25th year and we wanted this fair to really be a statement of intent,” London Art Fair director Jonathan Burton told ARTINFO UK today. “The fair is so successful because we are able to attract people looking for the cutting-edge contemporary work in Art Projects but equally to those who want a very beautiful landscape painting. We wouldn’t want to ignore either end.”
Landscape paintings there are aplenty at Islington’s Business Design Centre this week, and not always “very beautiful” ones. But as Burton points out, variety is key here, and the fair offers a welcome showcase for many galleries unable to join the British capital’s most prestigious event of this kind. As its name suggests, the LAF is very much a local affair: London galleries (94 out of 131 exhibitors) selling to London collectors. This is also part of its charm.
Today, as snow raged outside, the mood on the floor was somewhat conflicted. Few major sales were reported, yet several dealers pointed out to ARTINFO UK how well the fair had been attended so far, particularly during the VIP preview, which attracted 1,010 people in just over 3 hours last Tuesday.
The contemporary African art specialist Jack Bell Gallery was very pleased with its first LAF outing, having sold works on paper and paintings by painter Aboudia, as well as masks by Gonçalo Mabunda, and vintage prints by Mamidou Maigo, at prices ranging from £1,200 to £5,000.
The atmosphere was also upbeat at the gloriously gothic booth of Pertwee, Anderson & Gold. The star there was the 68 year-old Nancy Fouts, who provided a cornucopia of the delightful and bizarre, including the plaster cast of a skull equipped with false teeth (“Still Smiling” 2012), whose 2 editions sold for £2,940 a pop. Equally popular on the stand was her taxidermied “Lovebird on a Grenade.” Four editions sold, priced at £2,700 each.
“I don’t think there was any big sales but it’s been better than we expected,” confided Reg Singh from Beaux Arts, whose tally features a £20,000 painting by John Bellany and a delicate bronze and glass tree sculpture “Pity Me English Oak” (2013) by Stephanie Carlton Smith (£9,000).
“We used to get all the City here,” the veteran dealer added, “but there isn’t much money from the City at present. Not enough suits.” Fair director Burton squarely denied the lack of City visitors. “We have relationships with lots of the major city companies,” he told ARTINFO UK. “On the Friday before the fair, we were at about 1,100 requests for invitations from the City. It is quite substantial. Whether they then choose to spend the money is a different matter, but all I can do is get them through the door.”
There was also a bit of cheeky politics. A unnamed member of the House of Lords has purchased at Woolff Gallery a piece by Annemarie Wright, entitled “What Do you Think of David Cameron” (2012) for £7,000. The portrait of the prime minister is entirely constituted of messages answering the title question and left on a website set up by the artist: http://whatdoyouthinkofdavidcameron.com/.
But sales remained unevenly shared. Despite the high quality of her booth, Danielle Arnaud was still to part with anything at time of writing. “The pessimistic climate of press and government makes people more cautious,” she told ARTINFO UK. Particularly striking on her stand was a £12,000 piece by Sarah Woodfine, who has drawn on wood pieces to conjure up a table and ingredients for a magic potion, “Recipe for a Kiss of Shame” (2012).
One of the LAF’s most surprising aspects is that even though its main section doesn’t really attract London’s hippest contemporary art galleries, Art Projects is doing pretty well in this field. Limoncello, Hannah Barry, and the new star of the Peckham scene Sunday Painter are all present, and all have put some serious thinking into their displays.
Limoncello has mimicked the format of the reality TV show “Take Me Out” (in which a man has to pick his date from among a circle of hopeful and tarted up female candidates). Here works by female artists are all lined up in front of a piece by a male artist, and each time a work is bought it is replaced by a new one. In tune with the TV show’s nauseous machismo, the central work, a bronze by Sean Edwards, is also the most expensive piece on the booth, and it sold for a cool £7,000.
ARTINFO UK’s LAF crush was Sunday Painters’s booth, its floor covered by the painted carpet of a Matisse-like face (£4,800), courtesy of the Converse/Dazed Emerging Artists Award 2012 recipient Samara Scott. It is echoed by a series of small wall-based abstract works in materials as varied as towel, ceramic and nail polish (priced at between £900 and £1,100). “There are a lot of people flirting with us, but we won’t know [about sales] until the dust has settled,” said Sunday Painter’s Will Jarvis.
It might take a while. Kurt Beers, from Beers.Lambert is back at LAF for the second time, and he told ARTINFO UK that last year some sales resulting from their participation materialized “weeks, even months down the line.” This year they didn’t have to wait long, and reported strong sales, including a large painting by Canadian Andrew Salgado, purchased for £5,200 by the chairman of the Business Design Center himself. You couldn’t get more local.
London Art Fair, January 16-20, Business Design Centre, London