A Quiet Start for Start
At London's newest art fair, could slow and steady win the race?
October used to be the art fair season in London, but things are changing. Masterpiece—a hot spot for old masters and precious furniture which opened to the public on June 25—is well on its way to becoming as synonymous with the British summer as Pimm’s and Wimbledon. And as of this year, younger galleries have a new home at Start, inaugurated on the same day at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea, a stone’s throw from its more grown-up counterpart.
One can only welcome the initiative. Presented by the Prudential Eye Programme (a non-profit organization spearheaded by collectors David and Serenella Ciclitira), Start sets out to offer a platform for emerging galleries, and pays particular attention to those coming from places rarely represented on the art fair circuit, such as Vietnam, Malaysia, and Myanmar. Saatchi’s pristine galleries lend themselves perfectly well to the event, which also includes a significant number of European participants. artnet News even overheard a punter commenting that Start looked better than most of Saatchi’s shows. Exhibitors have been given generous spaces, which makes for a very pleasant meandering. After Basel—and Masterpiece—the small number of galleries (46) feels particularly refreshing.
Yet those who strolled the aisles in the fair’s few hours, couldn’t help noticing that there were more dealers than visitors around. On the plus side, the best pieces on display weren’t lost in the crowd. At London’s Copperfield, Eric Van Hove’s motor parts executed by Moroccan craftsmen—an answer to the first all Moroccan-built car, which had to use a German Mercedes-Benz V12 engine—could be admired in all their intricate glory. The East End’s Roman Road gallery only agreed to do the fair a month ago but it nonetheless pulled out all the stops with the duo presentation of Tom Esam and Josh Whitaker in an all-over installation featuring the 1990s icon Fido Dido.
While larger fairs tend to offer a rather monotonous experience, due to the abundance of pieces speaking the same artistic language, at Start the frame of reference often changes from booth to booth. Presented by Galerie Ora-Ora, Peng Wei’s silk shoes, complete with traditional Chinese erotica as their insoles, was a teasing introduction to Peng’s practice. “A lot of the artists we work with are established in Asia,” gallery manager Odetti Tse told artnet News. “[This fair] is the next step.”
Brundyn+, from Cape Town, has come with works by young graduates Jody Paulsen and Mohau Modisakeng. The latter’s performative photographs show a black figure brandishing both a gun and a dove, a blunt symbol of South Africa’s unresolved violent legacy.
All these young dealers hope Start will be the springboard they have been waiting for to break into the European, or UK market. The answer, of course, will be measured in sales. And likewise, only these will tell if the fair itself has the potential to blossom into a successful business or remain a well-intentioned philanthropic project.
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