The 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair Will Go Ahead in October in London, Despite the Cancellation of Frieze

A scaled-down version of the event will return to Somerset House this fall.

Figures forming an art installation by artist Zak Ove in the courtyard at the Somerset House as part of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London in 2016. Photo by Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images.
Figures forming an art installation by artist Zak Ove in the courtyard at the Somerset House as part of 1-54 Contemporary African Art Fair in London in 2016. Photo by Niklas Halle'n/AFP/Getty Images.

In a much-needed bit of good news for London’s art market, organizers of the the contemporary African art fair 1-54 have announced that they will go ahead this fall despite the cancellation of Frieze London and Frieze Masters.

A reduced number of galleries will participate in the live edition, and the fair has partnered with Christie’s to produce a concurrent online iteration open to more exhibitors.

Around 20 international galleries—fewer than half the number that showed last year—will take part in the in-person fair at Somerset House between October 8 through 10. The list of participating galleries will be released in September.

The decision came after many of the fair’s participating galleries expressed a desire to forge ahead even without the international draw of Frieze.

“Many of the galleries are really engaged with the project—and really need to sell as well—so they were quite keen to have a physical experience,” the fair’s founding director, Touria El Glaoui, tells Artnet News.

“One of the only pieces of ‘negative’ feedback that we got from our previous online collaboration was that as much as galleries did sell, they couldn’t develop real contacts and relationships with collectors,” she adds. (The fair made its online debut in lieu of its New York iteration in May.)

Eria Sane Nsubuga, <i>Queen Faith (Ringgold) holding a Hermes Birkin bag and a head of Libertas</i> (2019). Courtesy Afriart Gallery.

Eria Sane Nsubuga, Queen Faith (Ringgold) holding a Hermes Birkin bag and a head of Libertas (2019). Courtesy Afriart Gallery.

Visitors to the scaled-down version of the fair will have to comply with now-standard measures to protect public health: they will have to book time-slotted tickets and VIP access online; capacity will be controlled; and there will be a one-way path for visitors moving through the fair. Contactless systems will be in place, as well as the now omnipresent hand sanitizing stations.

“Galleries are aware that this is going to be a much more local fair, there are going to be probably fewer people traveling from different places in Europe, and they’re ok with that because they are keen to meet people who are based in London,” El Glaoui says.

For those based on the African continent or elsewhere who want a physical presence but do not believe they will be able to travel by October, El Glaoui is looking for alternative solutions. 

“We are trying to figure out how we can have them participate, maybe with the work but not themselves, and have someone manage their booths for them,” El Glaoui says. 

Benji Reid, Moon on a Cloud (2019). Courtesy October Gallery.

Benji Reid, Moon on a Cloud (2019). Courtesy October Gallery.

Meanwhile, all galleries originally accepted to the fair will be able to participate in the online edition for a £3,000 fee. Christie’s is not taking any additional cut of the sales.

Some works from the fair will also be exhibited at Christie’s King Street galleries throughout October.

El Glaoui says the online version also provides a back-up in case the event has to be cancelled, in which case a portion of the exhibitors’ fees will be reimbursed, while another will be put towards the online edition this year. 

The scaled-down fair will be accompanied by its popular talks program, film screenings, and other events, including panel discussions organized by the journalist Julia Grosse and the Stedelijk’s new curator-at-large, Yvette Mutumba.


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