Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Too many fairs spoil the trot?

Last week was particularly busy in the world of art- Monday was the pre-VIP opening for the Pavilion of Art and Design ('PAD') with a party at the Serpentine, and also a charity auction which I attended at Phillips de Pury to discover that Tracey Emin looks surprisingly less offensive in real life. Tuesday saw the official PAD preview which was very impressive and a clear improvement on last year.

Exhibiting this year at PAD, in its fourth year running, was an array of international galleries including Friedman Benda (New York), Van de Weghe Fine Art (New York), and Gabrielle Ammann (Koln, Germany). Some of the most remarkable works were at Hopkins Custot, a Marc Quinn sculpture of an oversized white orchid and around the corner at Friedman Benda, a unique bench by current Turbine Hall (Tate) exhibitor and artist Ai Waiwai. China Bench (2004) is crafted out of ironwood sourced from dismantled temples of the Qing Dynasty and is a long log shaped structure which is cast to the shape of China at each end (resembling a horizontal fluted column). Waiwai's work references his cultural heritage and takes a politically active stance, as further exemplified with his Sunflower Seeds (2010) installation at Tate Modern. These 100 million seeds which engulf the entrance are hand painted porcelain pods which took 2 years for a factory in China to produce, addressing associations with 'Made in China' and issues relating to export and mass production.   

Amusingly, the week before last at a dinner, I met a man who a mutual friend introduced as a carpenter. Here at the pavilion in Berkeley Square I discover the extent of his contribution to design as the director of the Carpenter's Workshop Gallery, also exhibiting and heavily involved in the Phillip's De Pury design sale some weeks prior.

Local galleries such as Hamilton's, Mayor Gallery and Simon Dickinson also took stands. Hamilton's gallery, specialising in photography, is run by Tim Jefferies- notorious for dating beautiful women including his current wife, and model, Marlin (previously engaged to Elle Macpherson, dated Elizabeth Hurley and Claudia Schiffer). His success as a gallerist of 26 years is also evident in his selection of artists- Irving Penn, Horst P. Horst, Jeanloup Sieff and Helmut Newton, and his display was very smart.

This year Christie's also decided to make a significant contribution to the London art scene during Frieze-week, alongside their contemporary sales also taking place, with the arrival of 'Multiplied' art fair taking place at their South Kensington showroom. The aim of this fair, and what sets it apart from the annual Original Print Fair at the Royal Academy, is that the works exhibited must be primary artists (haven't been sold at auction) which encouraged a fresher touch. The way around this criteria which allowed the big secondary market names like Hirst to squeeze through the door, is that if the gallery had published the work itself then it was permitted. Hence, the prices were affordable (£500-£15,000ish) but it retained a smartness and niche element (largely prints and photography: everything had to be in editions). Despite a wonderful party on the Friday, opening with bright blue strobe lights and cocktails, the foot-flow over the weekend was less than expected. This was not to say that the fair was not a success, there were indeed sporadic bursts of sales but the agora hustle was amiss.

It is a challenge to find quality amongst quantity and, with so much taking place in one week in London, it can be detrimental to attempt to 'do it all' as this results in an overload which affects ones ability to be able to perceive what is art in art.

Ai Waiwai

Marc Quinn

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