Young Galleries and Subversive Work Add Edgy Appeal to London Art Fair on Its 30th Anniversary

Artists Nilbar Güres and Frances Richardson scoop up awards at the fair.

Nilbar Güreş, Head Standing Totem (2014). Courtesy of Galerie Tanja Williams.

The early bird catches the worm, as the saying goes, and the London Art Fair returns this week, making the most of its traditional spot at the start of the year. The fair, which opened to invited guests on Tuesday, has kept dealers and collectors coming back over the past 30 years by staying put in the calendar and its forever home, the Building Design Centre, a Victorian-era exhibition hall in Islington, north London.

But is has also moved with the times, embracing edgy contemporary art and offering subsidized booths to international galleries looking to get a foothold in the British market.

Craigie Aitchison, Crucifixion 8, 1985-6, courtesy of Piano/Nobile.

The fair’s stalwarts, dealers of Modern British and contemporary art, have stayed mostly happy and loyal, but the fair’s director, Sarah Monk, who has worked at the fair for 17 years and been in charge for the past five years, has made changes to broaden its appeal. A section for younger galleries, many of whose artists are making their commercial debut at a London fair, attracted the sort of visitors who were also doing the rounds this weekend at the opening of the trendy gallery-share event, Condo London

At the entrance of the fair it was impossible to miss the large, colorful Craigie Aitchinson painting Crucifixion (1985-6), from the estate of the expat US millionaire Stanley Seeger at Piano/Nobile, on offer for £225,000 ($311,000).

Nilbar Güreş, Double Headed Snake – Queer Desire is Wild (2015), courtesy of Galerie Tanja Wagner.

Meanwhile, upstairs in the Art Projects and Dialogues section—the latter featuring female artists only—one can find playfully subversive works by the queer Kurdish artist Nilbar Güres. The Istanbul- and Vienna-based artist is at Berlin’s Galerie Tanja Wagner’s booth, with works priced from €3,500-€17,000 ($4,200-$21,000). Güres, who was awarded the £2,500 Art Project Artist Award (full disclosure, this writer was on the judging panel), will appear in a number of upcoming events: a solo show in June at the Lentos Museum in Graz, Austria, a talk at the fair on gender identity on Wednesday, and at Wagner’s booth at the upcoming Armory Show in New York.

Frances Richardson, detail of in times of brutal instability (2018) at Chiara Williams Contemporary Art.

Another prize went to the British artist Frances Richardson for her installation that riffs on Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa. A Leeds College of Art contemporary of Damien Hirst, Richardson won the Solo Award, co-founded by the curator and dealer Chiara Williams to realize the work at the London Art Fair. The artist made the birch plywood squares (£700/$965 each) and a sensuous sculpture or “performed object” in concrete canvas (£3,500/$4,830) for the fair in a site-specific installation at Chiara Williams Contemporary Art’s stand..

Irene Grau, 4 litros, red, yellow, blue (2014-17), courtesy of Maus Contemporary.

This year the Birmingham, Alabama-based gallery Maus Contemporary moved from Art Projects to the fair’s main space. Guido Maus was “very, very happy,” with his gallery’s business on preview day and its prime new location. There was particular interest in the minimalist photographs and paintings of the Spanish artist Irene Grau, who is due to have her first solo US museum show at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art in Madison, Wisconsin, this summer. Her work is priced between £1,000-£16,000 ($1,400-$22,000) at the fair.  

British-born, Arizona-based Andy Burgess’s colorful paintings of mid-century modern homes attracted interest to the stand of London-based Cynthia Corbett Gallery. Burgess also has a solo US museum show coming up, opening February 1 at the Tucson Museum of Art. His collector base is already established on both sides of the Atlantic, including Nobel Prize-winning author Kazuo Ishiguro, the actor Emma Thompson, and the philanthropist and museum founder Beth De Woody.

Andy Burgess, Wexler Steel House – Zig Zag Roof (2017). Courtesy of the Cynthia Corbett Gallery.

A large acrylic of a Palm Springs home, Wexler Steel House – Zig Zag Roof (2017) is priced at £8,750 ($12,000). Corbett says she has had good luck at the London Art Fair because “the Modern British is high quality, the fair is quite broad, and the art is not unreachable—people can see it in their homes or offices.” As she spoke, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, could be seen heading for Vigo Gallery’s stand.

This year, London Art Fair is also playing host to possibly the largest and certainly the most diverse range of art ever lent by public collections to an art fair in London (giving it one up on larger fairs like Masterpiece and Frieze Masters later in the year). On show are works chosen by five leading artists from the Art UK’s 200,000-strong online database of paintings in museums across the UK. Sonia Boyce, Mat Collishaw, Haroon Mirza, Oscar Murillo, and Rose Wylie have chosen paintings, many by lesser-known artists, some of which have long been in storage. The exhibition has been organized by the independent curator Kathleen Soriano for the charity Art UK (formerly the Public Catalogue Foundation), which has begun the epic task of photographing and cataloguing sculpture in thousands of museums and institutions.

London Art Fair, Business Design Centre, Islington, London January 17 – 21.


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