london art fair 2011

23 January 2011 § 1 Comment

The London Art Fair 2011 kicked off this last week with, let us say, a whimper rather than a bang. Despite being around for some 23 years, it has been on the way down for many years since Frieze stole its thunder a number of years back. Its decline this year was sadly rather evident.

The first thing to strike you was not who was there, but who was not. The big international galleries have long since avoided the fair: White Cube, Hauser & Wirth, Victoria Miro and the like steer well clear. Middle level galleries are now almost completely absent – the likes of Stephen Friedman and Flowers are largely gone. As for small, influential galleries like Carl Freedman – not a chance. Even little West End galleries like John Martin selling popular and easily accessible work – the galleries for who you would imagine this show is perfect are deserting the ship.

So who is left? There was a reasonably good selection of work from Modernist British artists – Ivon Hitchens, Roger Hilton, Alan Davie and the like – shown by galleries such as Anthony Hepworth, Austin Desmond and Richard Green. It was however thoroughly mixed in with contemporary work of generally poor quality from a multiplicity of small galleries – mostly little-known or ‘popping-up’ from unknown origins. 

The whole was exhibited in a maze of alleys and passageways that seems ever more confusing and cramped year by year. The balcony stands afford such little viewing space that it is rather like having a gellery on a tube train whilst the Art Projects section showed some dire stuff in an assortment of back rooms.

The supposed ‘VIP’ tickets afforded a slightly more leisurely experience, but unaccompanied by any drinks until 6pm when some mediocre cava appeared in plastic glasses (the fact it was in relatively generous quantity was a minor blessing). As for the supposed ‘VIP room’ – I wont even go there!

Was it really as bad as I make out – probably not and I passed a pleasant enough couple of hours at the fair – but it was all slightly disappointing and not the sort of event  to inspire the spending of large amounts of money on high quality art – even if you could find it. The first word from some dealers I spoke to backs up this impression – “the worst year yet”, “no buyers around” and “never again”. Verdict: C minus – could try harder. Will we see anything change next year – nope!

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