As the panic over Brexit grows ever more frenetic, two London art fairs, ArtRooms and the London Art Fair, provide a glimpse of a more positive future.
After its success in Rome and Seoul, the fifth edition of the London ArtRooms Fair took place at the Melia White House Hotel from 11 to 13 January at the corner of Regent’s Park: a district firmly linked with art from the first Frieze. Every year, the fair provides a rare occasion for artists from all over the world (here, some thirty countries) to exhibit without going through a gallery. Seventy-one hotel rooms were transformed into intimate studios curated by the artists themselves, sometimes making use of lighting effects, music and installations to put their work into context. "We look at really everything. We talk to the artists far more than at an ordinary fair, because we enter their personal spaces," said one visitor. It was a triumph for Italian artist Pietro Campagnoli and his ghostly sculptures of shroud-wrapped figures, because he signed up with a Milanese gallery the very first day. Artists who found it more difficult to talk freely about their work found negotiations somewhat trickier: many of them said they didn't make any sales. A seminar entitled "The art of selling one's art", run by Gabriele Galassi, director of the Business Psychology Network, was laid on to help participants. In every case, "having the opportunity to exhibit in London for only £20 [the entry fee for all artists] was extraordinary," said Portuguese painter and engraver Simão Martinez. If ArtRooms succeeds in establishing a system that facilities sales, it could easily become the most original art event in London.
Getting the best out of the galleries
We now head for Islington, where the London Art Fair (LAF) took place from 16 to 20 January. With a focus on modern and contemporary art, the event inspired the exhibitors selected to stupendous efforts. Choices were bold, as was the staging, and there was a feeling of consistency in the galleries' approaches, creating the delightful impression that every stand complemented and enriched the one before. An overall sense of harmony reigned supreme from the opening part of the fair – where visitors were greeted by a magnificent exhibition of works from Eastbourne's Towner Art Gallery – through to contact with emerging artists and galleries in the Art Projects section. Zavier Ellis, director of Charlie Smith London and a regular at the fair, was delighted with what he called "his best results so far." Thrown, a ceramics gallery which opened very recently in March 2018, was given a warm reception in the Art Projects section. Its director, Claire Pearce, like many of her colleagues, noted the predominance of new customers. Despite the prevailing enthusiasm, Brexit was never far from people's thoughts. "After such a record week, I'm inclined to say “f*** Brexit!” said Zavier Ellis. "Globally, the market stayed buoyant throughout the proceedings, and a falling pound is an advantage for exports." Emanuel von Baeyer, exhibiting for the first time, was also very confident: "These are uncertain times: all we can do is wait and see. We have contingency plans for all reasonably possible scenarios." An attitude clearly shared by several well-known collectors and curators, spotted leaving the fair with precious packages under their arms…