January is now halfway through and the first big art show of the year began yesterday at the Business Design Centre in Islington – the London Art Fair.
I’ve been going to this event for several years now and I have to say that it is a little like Groundhog Day, in that not a lot seems to change.
One would think that the galleries would refresh their displays each year with up and coming artists; perhaps get their established artists to produce some new works and do something different. I’m looking for excitement, I’m looking for spectacle – I’m looking for something that you wouldn’t normally get if you visited the galleries ‘at home’.
It’s a big space with an opportunity for scale, or theatricality. It sells itself as a fair for contemporary and modern art, but there are no contemporary public galleries here, no chance to see up and coming students or bright young things. The emphasis is on sales and high-end bling – not on showcasing the future and testing the waters for who might be hot in years to come.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty to see there, but most interesting pieces seemed to hover around the early 20th century, with work by Lowry, Spencer, Hepworth and the odd expensive scribble by Picasso. A stand out piece was Bryan Kneale's Rook in the Wind, Isle of Man, once owned by Sir Richard Attenborough. It looked like a pictoral version of a Ted Hughes poem, all feather, sinew and claw.
Elsewhere, there was plenty of figurative work and sculpture, but not much in the way of landscape. Gimmicks were abundant with weird materials, close- ups, photoshopped images, repeated shapes – mostly great as pieces of interior design, but not as mirrors of the artists’ personalities. There was a distinct lack of social commentary, for instance, with the exceptions being Pourquoi II, a macabre painting of three Holocaust victims, by John Bellany RA, and an interesting mural, Europe 2019, depicting Europe with all its former passport covers, by Yanko Tihov.
As I’ve said, the London Art Fair is really about a certain cross- section of galleries, signing up for the same stands each year and selling the same wares. That’s fair enough, but on a personal level I need to get out and see some of the other big shows to get a better perspective on the art market. I don’t think I’ll visit LAF for another three years at least, which is hopefully enough time for the content to reboot.
Highlights included a great wall full of Peter Brook prints showing the South Pennines throughout the year which were beautifully done and reminded me of where I grew up.
There was also a small ceramic by Grayson Perry, produced to raise money for Battersea Arts Centre after a fire. It shows Alan Measles, his teddy bear hero, stood at the entrance with a paint brush penis and large words above him stating, “Fucking Arts Centre”.
It captured my thoughts precisely!