The pandemic has wreaked havoc on the art world. Fairs have been cancelled, galleries closed and artists confined to their studios. The London Art Fair, which was supposed to take place in January, finally opened its doors on April 20. The vernissage wasn’t as crowded as in previous years (perhaps because it oddly coincided with the Venice Biennale), but there was a sense of relief that it was finally happening. If this is actually a stripped down version of the previous shows, I’m not sure. But there seems to be a new seriousness. More beauty and less frivolity with the ground floor mainly dedicated to British modernism – and the contemporary work that is happily found there – and the upper floor showcasing younger and newer galleries.
there seems to be a new seriousness. More beauty and less frivolity.
On entering the fair I was delighted to see that this year’s museum partner is the wonderful Women’s Art Collection, Europe’s largest collection of women’s art which is normally housed at the Brut modernist Murray Edwards College (formerly New Hall) in Cambridge. The collection contains some 550 works by iconic artists such as Barbara Hepworth, Cindy Sherman and Faith Ringgold. At the fair are exhibited a rather strange Maggie Hambling, Hebe and her Serpent, 1979, a vibrant Eileen Cooper of two flagrant dancers, Perpetual Spring, 2016 and an interesting Early Tracey Emin (interesting because she is not the subject), a color lithograph from 1986, entitled Sixty A Day Woman after a character met in Margate who is said to have smoked 60 cigarettes a day.
At Purdy Hicks, I discovered some archival floral pigment prints by Kathrin Linkersdorff. The transparent beauty of Les Fleurs du Mal has a sense of entropy. At Rebecca Hossack, best known for showing Aboriginal art, there is an abstract version of the River Thames – part map, part abstract painting – by Barbara McFalane, London Cobalt, Teal and Emerald which, despite its Scottish name, shows the influence of Aboriginal art in its brand. Zuleika Gallery has an entire booth dedicated to Nigel Hall’s elegant minimal works on paper and sculptures, while Advanced Graphics has a delightful little print of Craigie Aitchison’s Crucifixion with Dog 2003, created in his bright colors and naive style. There’s Winifred Nicholsons, Sickerts and Prunella Cloughs to be had, and real delights among the plethora of middlings. A Jewel was an early painting by my late friend Gillian Ayres. An unusually small work dated 1957, painted with ripolin on a small vertical strip of cardboard in his early tachiste style.
But it’s the top floor that gives the fair its pizzazz. Now in its 17th year, Art Projects brings together international companies – both solo exhibitions and curated group exhibitions. Domobaal offers a fascinating series of unique photographic transfers on lime logs by Alice Wilson depicting woods, paths through forests, sheds and unnamed warehouses, alongside equally enigmatic oils on wood by Fiona Finnegan, including When the Levee Breaks, 2020, a black feather duster erupting against what could be a pink sunset. At Ed Cross Fine Art, Tiffanie Delune uses warm colors to create exotic and playful images that depict her roots and family memories, while the artists at MADEINBRITALY have crafted their own ‘Hortus Conclusus’, ‘a walled garden’ that works as a space in which to ferment new ideas. At IMT Gallery, collaboration is the name of the game. Works by Paola Ciarska, Frankie Robers and Orphan Drift (Ranu Mukerjee and Maggie Roberts) are housed in a scaffolding structure that functions as a physical metaphor for the collaboration needed to curate an exhibition.
Current issues, in particular Brexit, followed by the Covid pandemic, as well as the global climate emergency, informed Rodrigo Orrantia’s Photo50 curatorship. The first work encountered is that of a small sailboat with dark sails, which seems to be heading for the shores of a utopian paradise. It is part of a powerful installation, Journey, by Esther Teichmann and is set alongside Alexander Mourant’s fascinating A Vertio Like Self, originally made as a Super 8 film of a silent voyage by sea. to an island.
The second part of the exhibition, in continuity with the theme of water as a liminal space, deals with Borders. These can be interpreted both as geographical limits and as the space between the flat world of photography and the three-dimensionality of the sculptural object.
In its fourth edition, Platform, curated by Candida Stevens, features 10 galleries whose artists have created new works that explore the intersection between the visual and the music. There is work here that references the improvisations of jazz, with its destabilized, offbeat imagery, as well as that of figurative artists who represent the process of composition, both musically and visually.
Alongside all these different elements, the fair features a series of talks ranging from Artistate: Art, Death & Legacy: Managing Artist Estates in the 21st Century, to what promises to be an interesting panel discussion on The Women’s Art Collection at Murray Edwards College – A “feminist” curatorial model.
The London Art Fair may not have quite the international sparkle of, say, Frieze, but over the years it has settled into its own format. One features works by well-known names, as well as a healthy display of new and experimental work.
London Art Fair 2022, Business Design Centre, Islington London N1, 21-24 April 2022
See selected works by Paul Carter Robinson here
Sue Hubbard is an award-winning freelance poet, novelist and art critic. His novel Rainsongs is published by Duckworth. Her fourth collection of poems Swimming to Albania is available at www.salmonpoetry.com. Her novel about the life of artist Paula Modersoh Becker, Girl in White, will be republished later this year by Puskin Press, which will also publish its fourth novel next year. www.suehubbard.com